Holiness: Not one size fits all

“All Saints” by Fra Angelico


Have you ever noticed that things marked “one size fits all” rarely do? “One size fits all” is simply not the way humanity works. We’re all quite different, whether it’s the length of our arms and the girth of our waists or the extravertedness of our temperament and the sensitivity of our emotions.

We will all follow different paths, while living different vocations, to the same goal: holiness. Thankfully, we have plenty of indications that this goal is possible despite our differences. When the Church canonizes someone, She is reminding us that our vocation to holiness is within reach for us, thanks to the grace of God.

In all my conversations and experiences, even around the so-called Bible Belt, I don’t often run across non-Catholics who really have a problem with the saints. They may have concerns about praying to them, but those concerns are usually answered when they see that prayer does not equal worship. Over all, everyone can relate to the importance of honoring those who have gone before us. We do it in secular society, when we hold up heroes who have championed causes close to our hearts.

This weekend, the Church will hold up Father Solanus Casey as a reminder to all of us that holiness is possible.  He is the second American priest to be beatified this year, following the beatification of Father Stanley Rother in September. When you look at the lives of Father Solanus and Father Rother, you see that when it comes to holiness, we don’t believe one size fits all.

These two men may have lived the same vocation—priesthood—but that path took them in very different directions.  Both struggled in the seminary, with Father Solanus eventually being ordained as a simplex priest, a priest who could celebrate Mass but not hear confessions or preach formal doctrinal homilies. He humbly served the poor and sick in New York and Detroit, bringing consolation to those who sometimes simply needed someone to listen and love them.

Father Rother’s vocation took him to Guatemala, where he worked as a missionary to serve the people with the sacraments and answer their fundamental needs: building a school, a hospital, and the first Catholic radio station. He refused to abandon his flock when the violence in Guatemala escalated, famously writing, “The shepherd cannot run at the first sign of danger. Pray for us that we may be a sign of the love of Christ for our people, that our presence among them will fortify them to endure these sufferings in preparation for the coming of the Kingdom.”

Both men lived lives of service, undaunted by difficulties, whether they came in the form of criticism and ridicule, sickness, or violent persecution. Both men sought to live lives of perfection in holiness and dedication to the people of God. One suffered martyrdom at age forty-six at the hands of enemies of the Church, and the other died at age eighty-six in a Detroit hospital, offering up his cross of illness and suffering.

Importantly, both used their God-given gifts for His service. They didn’t seek to be what they weren’t. They accepted both their talents and their weaknesses, and set out to use everything to further the Kingdom of God—one in the foreign mission field and one at home.

God doesn’t ask us to become something we are not. He asks us to let grace build on our natures and to let Him work through the raw material of which He has made us. Holiness is not something we put on, but is the perfection of who we were created to be.

These men are modern reminders to us that holiness is possible through grace.  Blessed Stanley Rother’s sister Marita was present at his beatification. This weekend, there will be Capuchin priests at Father Solanus’ beautification who remember the holy priest, and the soup kitchen he founded in Detroit is still in operation. We have photographs of these men, and testimonies from their friends and family.

We all need reassurance we can do something, whether it is encouragement from a coworker that a project is possible or nudging from a sibling or friend that a goal is attainable. This is what the saints do for us. They are reminders that this vocation to holiness that we all share, no matter how difficult it might look, is possible. Since none of us can accomplish any of this ourselves, they also assist us by their prayers: that we may receive God’s grace and strength in this vocation, which is made up of small steps and daily choices.

Holiness is not one size fits all. God doesn’t ask us to become someone else as we pursue holiness. He asks us to become more fully ourselves.


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About the Author

Joannie Watson

Joan Watson was born and raised in Lafayette, Indiana, but college and graduate school took her to Virginia, Ohio, and Rome. After graduating from Christendom College with a B.A. in History and Franciscan University with a M.A. in Theology, she moved to Nashville, Tennessee to be part of the explosion of Catholic culture in the middle of the Bible Belt.

She has been blessed to work for Dr. Scott Hahn at the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology and the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia at Aquinas College. She is presently the Director of Adult Formation for the Diocese of Nashville. When she’s not testing the culinary exploits of new restaurants or catching up on the latest BBC miniseries, she’s FaceTiming with her eight nephews and nieces and enjoying her role as coolest aunt. She likes gelato, bourbon, and the color orange.

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