“Holiness requires a counter-cultural life.”
This weekend we celebrate one of my favorite feast days: All Saints Day. I love thinking of the giant party that is happening in heaven as we celebrate the feast days of all those people who are not formally canonized by the Church. Remember, a saint is simply someone in heaven. Every person ever created is called to be a saint; very few have feast days declared by the Church. All Saints Day is, hopefully, our future feast day.
The lives of the saints are beautiful testimonies to the Catholic Faith. In fact, Pope Benedict XVI said that along with evangelizing power of beauty, the lives of the saints are the “true apology of Christian faith, the most convincing demonstration of its truth.” Immersing ourselves in the stories of our predecessors should remind us that holiness is possible and the Christian life is worth living.
Some of the saint stories, however, might cause you to wonder if you really can do this whole saint thing. Wolves don’t listen to me, like St. Francis of Assisi. I don’t levitate in prayer or bear the wounds of Christ on my flesh. I don’t have the power to lecture the Pope like Catherine of Siena or bilocate like Padre Pio.
To be a saint, do I have to throw off all my personal possessions, renounce my family, and run around the countryside preaching the Gospel? We have the saints as examples, but what if I don’t want to emulate St. Rose of Lima to disfigure my beauty and chop off my hair? What if I don’t want to live as a beggar under the steps of my parents’ home like St. Alexis? How does holiness work if I have a job, family, and other responsibilities?
In short, is holiness always so… weird?
As I’ve mentioned before, I need more messy saint stories. I love seeing how the saints lived heroic virtue, but I also love seeing how they struggled daily with habitual sin and continually strove for conversion. I can relate to that. In the same way, while I love to read the radical saint stories, I also love the stories that seem much more ordinary.
When we teach people about the saints, it’s tempting to focus on the dramatic. The miracles, the stigmatas, the radical calls to poverty and chastity, the extraordinary manifestations of holiness are often our focus. It’s more dramatic to talk about St. Gianna’s final sacrifice of her life for her child than her daily sacrifices for her husband, children, and medical profession. There’s nothing wrong with talking about these grand things, but let’s not forget to talk about the little things, too.
Is holiness always so weird? Well, yes and no.
Not all of us are called to renounce all of our earthly possessions and go throughout the country preaching the Gospel like St. Francis. But we are called to be detached from our earthly possessions so that they don’t rule our lives and decisions. We are all called to live lives that place eternity as the ultimate goal rather than earthly comfort and happiness. This means making small, daily decisions towards that goal: voluntary mortifications throughout our day so that we grow in virtue and are not ruled by our sensual desires; tithing even when it takes great trust or sacrificing the comforts of life; giving away clothes and items we don’t need; forgoing the newest phone or gadget.
These are ways we can grow in virtue and strive for holiness while living in the world. Most of us are not called to live the radical lives of Rose of Lima or Catherine of Siena, but we are called to sanctify the world in which God placed us at this moment. This means making small, daily decisions to not participate in gossip and direct conversations towards edifying topics; educating ourselves on why the Church teaches something so that we can do a better job speaking to our coworkers and family members; receiving the sacraments frequently even when the times for confession aren’t convenient or daily Mass requires me to wake up early. That’s what holiness will look like for most of us. Not stigmatas or miracles, but bringing the Gospel in small ways to our homes, workplaces, schools, and neighborhoods.
That’s what I love about Blessed Carlo Acutis (and it’s why everyone else loves him too). Most children today will not be asked to protect the Eucharist from Roman mobs like Saint Tarcisius. But they will be able to stick up for disabled kids who are being bullied, support their friends when their parents are going through a divorce, and encourage their family to go to Mass with them.
The Second Vatican Council reminded us, “The laity must take up the renewal of the temporal order as their own special obligation. Led by the light of the Gospel and the mind of the Church and motivated by Christian charity, they must act directly and in a definite way in the temporal sphere” (Apostolicam Actuositatem, 7). These efforts will play out in every aspect of our lives: “Furthermore, in collaborating as citizens of this world, in whatever pertains to the up-building and conducting of the temporal order, the laity must seek in the light of faith loftier motives of action in their family, professional, cultural, and social life and make them known to others when the occasion arises. Doing this, they should be aware of the fact that they are cooperating with God the creator, redeemer, and sanctifier and are giving praise to Him” (Apostolicam Actuositatem, 16).
Is holiness weird? Well, yes. This is a different Gospel than the one the world is preaching. Voluntary mortification? Saying no to comforts for the sake of growing in virtue? Living not for this life but for the next? In the end, yes, holiness is weird. Not because we have to live on a pillar like St. Simon the Stylite to be holy, not because we have to be able to read souls or bilocate to be holy, not because we have to be able to convert hundreds with a single homily to be holy. But because holiness requires a counter-cultural life- one that is radical in the eyes of the world.
So let’s go be weird.
Don’t wait until you are old to start becoming a saint. Begin right now. Cheerfully and joyfully, by fulfilling the duties of your work and of your everyday life. -St. Josemaria Escriva
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