Oh, to be a saint!

Tina McCormick

Church Frieze in Argentina by Fran Hogan

“I’m not a saint!” is perhaps one of my most frequent utterances, along with more forceful expressions such as “No!”, “Do your homework!”, “Get ready for bed!”, “Get into the car!”, or, simply “Listen!” While the harsh tone of the latter statements might be shocking to outsiders, the tone of the former comes closer to a temptation to despair and surrender.

When we are caught up in the everyday, the high standards of virtue and holiness exhibited by our saints can be vexing. The saints we venerate can make us feel perpetually sub-standard in our own attempts at serenity and virtue in struggling with the mental and physical messiness of our daily lives. Who doesn’t feel uneasy with the notion of the army of saints, marching in glorious and perfect unity past our own frailty and weaknesses towards the welcoming gates of heaven? How, I may ask, can God expect saintliness from someone as average as myself? As utterly human and limited in terms of abilities and strengths? If anything, the saints, through their shining examples, can make us feel less worthy, even short-changed. With all our efforts and hard work, why does the Lord never appear to us? In a flash of lightning perhaps? Where are the Marian apparitions to instruct and console us? Where are the physical miracles that will bolster our faith and disarm our opponents?

I must confess that I am not easily awed by levitations, ecstasies, stigmata, miraculous healings, or other explicit manifestations of the divine. I am a housewife and a mother of five and my day-to-day survival depends on practical prowess, pragmatic reasoning, and maintaining basic sanity. Like many women, I try to multi-task and micro-manage and find myself on the edge of reason fairly often. Sometimes, I feel that I would have a greater chance of saintliness within monastic walls or as a free agent tending to the sick and the weak. Instead, I am desperately attempting to raise my merciless children to be good Christians and trying to keep our home from imploding in chaos and succumbing to deadly anarchy. Simply trying to do my best within the confines of my position as a wife and mother, my goals appear simple and my ambitions mundane.

However, I don’t give up hope and God appears in the most surprising places. Outside of Mass, I find glimpses of God’s mysteries in everything, and, especially, in the banal - not in dramatic revelations of God’s power and glory. I find joy in simple acts of kindness and love, in surprising human connections and compassion, and in sacrificing selfish interests. Also, in simple gazes towards heaven, when people try to be the best they can be and attempt to reach their potential given to them not only as human beings, but as God’s children and made in his image. But this approach to life is based on intuition, not a burning bush, the parting of the sea, or painful stigmata. As my faith deepens, I hope to acquire a knowledge of God, which flows from a maturing of faith into worldly awareness and wisdom and a growing sensitivity towards others. God’s answers to my questions and prayers lie in Christ whose sacrifice for us was nothing less than complete. Everything has been said and nothing more can be given. To ask for more strikes me as a tad ungrateful.

So what have the saints, in their apparent human perfection and open channel of communication with the Lord, to do with me, anyway? Are they our enemies, because they magnify our limitations, or our friends, because they inspire us? Given that our Church knows best, how do we connect with saints as examples to emulate without despairing in our own limitations? We should all strive to be heroes as, indeed, Christianity is a call to heroism. But even many of our greatest heroes were not heroic at every moment and each day of their lives. Above all else, we must have the courage of the saints that lets us face who we really are and opens our eyes to what we can become. This brings humility, but the strengthening, uplifting kind. And we must have the humor of the saint, which is the ability to mentally step outside of any situation, even ourselves, and separate the truly meaningful from merely fleeting worldly concerns. When we ponder what a loving God has in store for each of us, namely a peace beyond this world, and we can laugh about this messy, noisy, unjust world and show love and kindness despite it all, we become participants in the great endeavor of saintliness.

Topics: Beauty , Faith , Family , Marriage , Motherhood , Saints

Tina McCormick, who has a doctorate in history from Harvard, is raising her five children in Massachusetts. She is a volunteer with Catholic Voices USA.

View all articles by Tina McCormick

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