Lives of the Saints
In elementary school, “Lives of the Saints” was a staple in our classrooms, and I remember asking for a copy of the book for Christmas one year. The stories I read therein made me believe that all the saints were people who had lived super-amazing lives that were impossible for most of us to emulate.
While I certainly believe that they were, indeed, good and holy people who often performed heroic acts and lived exemplary lives, I never really thought that anyone I knew would be a saint, nor would I (although I often prayed for the courage to do whatever God asked of me), for it was unlikely that any of us would be called to endure some of the hardships and challenges that marked the lives of the women and men about whom I read. And so my image of “saints” was pretty much about people “out there somewhere” – people who would never touch my life and who were asked to do things that I would never encounter.
I also tried to reconcile that image of “saint” with the whole notion of the “communion of saints.” Yes, in school, we had learned about living our lives so that we could be with God in heaven, but rarely were all the “uncanonized folk,” in heaven referred to as saints (except may on All Saints Day) … and if they were, they were certainly overshadowed by the “real” saints.
It wasn’t until I was in about fifth-grade that I began to think differently about sainthood. My most treasured possession is a letter that my father wrote to me the day after I was born. In it, he didn’t send me to “Lives of the Saints” as my model for living. Rather, he encouraged me to live a life like that of my mother. And although he never called her a “saint,” certainly he left no doubt about what he thought about her life. What follows is some of Dad’s advice to his one-day old daughter: “There is one thing I want of you – I want you to be a good girl always – I want you to be as good a girl as your mother. If you grow up like her, I’ll never need worry. She will give you advice in the years to come. Be smart and follow her suggestions … Be a good girl always, honey. Be as good … as your mother – look to her and the Blessed Virgin for guidance and you’ll never ever regret following my advice of tonight … have a long happy life on earth, darling – return someday to your God and your mission on earth will have proved its worth.”
I still remember the evening I reread that letter (which was stored in our parents’ cedar chest, where all our “treasures” were kept), and realized for the first time that I was probably living with a saint! I had no illusions about her ever being canonized, but it was so clear to me that my dad saw her as a saint … and I began to realize, really for the first time, that ALL those people in union with God were bona fide saints … not just the canonized ones. And then, of course, I stopped to think about the other saints who touched my life – my dad, my grandparents, aunts and uncles, teachers, and yes, even my brothers and sisters … all the good women and men who tried to live in relationship with God and who made their life’s work that of being God’s Providence in the world.
Every time I hear the words about sainthood that were uttered by our own Mother Theodore, I can’t help but recall that evening that I reread the letter from my dad. Her words ring so true to me: “What have we to do in order to become saints? Nothing extraordinary; nothing more than what we do every day. Only do it for (God’s) love.”
Yes, this is a definition of sainthood with which I can connect. Thank you, Mother Theodore, for reinforcing the image of “saint” that my dad taught me so long ago, and thank you for helping us realize that “Lives of the Saints” is attainable for all of us who do very ordinary things each day, that God’s Providence might be extended in our world.