July 20, 2016

Needed: More Canonized Mothers and Fathers

By Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, C.S.J. *
St. Louis and Zelie Martin. Public domain image.
St. Louis and Zelie Martin. Public domain image.

When Zélie and Louis Martin, the parents of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, were canonized in 2015, it must have crossed the minds of many in the Church:  Why aren’t there more canonized saints among married women and men? 

Vatican II and the Call to Universal Holiness: the Laity/Married People/

In the Dogmatic Constitution, “The Church,” the Fathers at Vatican II explicitly called for the universal holiness of all according to their vocation in life.  Jesus preached holiness of life to each and every one of his disciples: “You therefore are to be perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48).  All the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or stature are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity.  

The document was emphatic about the holiness of all, that lay men and lay women were called to holiness, not in the same way as consecrated religious men and women.  Consecrated life was no longer more esteemed than consecrated married life.  Everyone is called to holiness according to the vocation one has chosen.  Only the manner in which it is lived marks the distinguishing characteristic: “Married couples and Christian parents should follow their own proper path to holiness by faithful love, sustaining one another in grace throughout the entire length of their lives.  They should imbue their offspring, lovingly welcomed from God, with Christian truths and evangelical virtues.” (29)  In the home, yes, in every room of the home, God’s graces are present and at work to sanctify family life—conjugal love and the love among the other members of the family. Many times heroic virtue is needed to cooperate with these graces.

Heroic Virtue

Canonizations of consecrated men and women far exceed those consecrated in marriage. So it’s a fair question:  If sainthood is “the exemplary practice of Christian virtue so that one becomes a model and ideal of Christian discipleship,” then surely more devout parents ought to be considered for sainthood as well (Harper’s Encyclopedia of Catholicism). 

Heroic virtue can be found among spouses in service-oriented positions as they share in the ministry of the other spouse. Heroic virtue can be found among mothers and fathers whose self-giving to each other and to their children has virtually no limit.   Charged with the responsibility of raising children in the faith, parents educate their children to be citizens in this world and for the next. 

Contemporary Challenges

The difficulties that challenge modern families are well known.  One problem lies in the unwillingness of the members to listen with attention and respect—adult to adult, sibling to sibling, parent to child, child to parent. The lack of discernment—the habit of making decisions at the level of faith—is another basic problem.

Today many young adults reject Catholicism.  By choosing agnosticism, atheism, or no organized religion at all, they cause their parents great distress. Where have their parents gone wrong?  What can they do to reinvigorate the faith of their children and bring them back to their senses? The family that has been called to become the Domestic Church descends into an arena of discord. When this happens, the nobility of the family collapses.  

Parental Anxieties

Gone are the days when saints were described as without faults.  Saintly mothers and fathers have their un-saintly days.  When an exhausted parent thinks, “I can’t give any more of myself,” this is not complaining but concern about failure to give one’s best to the children.

If mothers and fathers are honest with themselves, they worry.  Worry about what?  Financial matters, religious and social concerns, medical issues, discipline and good order, whether or not they are worthy role models for their children. 

Breaking Marriage Vows

It is no longer rare for a spouse to walk out on the other with or without provocation with simple statements that defy credibility: “I don’t want to be married to you anymore.”  Or, “I can’t take the responsibility of being a father or a mother.” Or, “I’ve fallen in love with another person.”  While dealing with the deep loss, the remaining spouse is forced to shoulder much more responsibility. With the steady increase of single-parent homes, the one adult is often obliged to work two jobs, and even three, to support the family with all the concerns involved.  

What Canonized Mothers and Fathers Could Do for the Church?

The vocation to married life is as blessed as the celibate vocation, but the Church is top-heavy with canonized celibate saints and martyrs.  It is true that the latter have given special witness through the ages.  It is also true that we venerate those few canonized married saints scattered throughout the ages, for example, St. Monica, mother of St. Augustine.  For twenty years, her prayers were offered for his conversion from a life of debauchery to the saintly life of theologian and Bishop of Hippo.  Then there have been Saints Henry and Louis IX,  Kings of Germany and France, respectively; Elizabeth of Hungary, and Thomas More, Lord Chancellor of England. Each gave witness in his or her own way.  Imagine what an increase of canonized mothers and fathers would do for the public image of the contemporary Church!

What we need is public witness to consecrated married life, public witness to build up the family struggling to live up to their vocation as the Domestic Church, and public witness that convinces the world that  there are many more “holy families” than the one in Nazareth of two thousand years ago!  

Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, a member of the Congregation of St. Joseph, Brentwood, NY, holds degrees in philosophy (Ph.L), musicology (Ph.D.), theology (M.A.), and liturgical studies (Ph.D). She has taught at all levels of Catholic education and writes with a particular focus on a theology of beauty and the sacred arts. Her e-mail address is [email protected].

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.

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