July 26, 2013


Celebrating saints for our time

Catholics in central and southern Indiana joined our sisters and brothers throughout the world in welcoming the news that two recent popes, Blessed John XXIII and Blessed John Paul II will soon be canonized saints. Some of us remember both men, but all of us regardless of our ages are living in times that were profoundly influenced by their witness to the Gospel and their deep sensitivity to the challenges of living our faith in these turbulent times.

Blessed John XXIII occupied the chair of St. Peter for a relatively short time (1958-63), but what he set in motion by calling the Second Vatican Council has had a lasting impact on the Church and on the modern world.

Blessed John Paul II served as pope for many years (1978-2005). His writings, his pastoral visits to virtually every corner of the globe, his political clout, and his dynamic ministry, followed by the suffering and decline of his later years, all have touched our lives. The world is different because of these two popes—soon to be officially recognized as saints.

What did these two popes have in common? Love for the Church, warmth and compassion, charisma, a keen sense of what the world needs now and, above all else, holiness.

Holiness is the virtue that unites all the saints—very different women and men with extremely diverse backgrounds, personalities, skill and talents, failures and accomplishments.

St. Thomas Aquinas was brilliant. St. John Vianney struggled with his studies and was nearly refused ordination to the priesthood. St. Theodora Guérin was a multi-talented pioneer whose influence on the state of Indiana and our nation can be measured, in part, by what she built and accomplished. St. Maria Goretti was an 11-year-old girl, whose only achievement was her courage in the face of martyrdom at the hands of an abusive young man.

Similarly, Blessed John XXIII was a very different personality than Blessed John Paul II. Angelo Roncalli (“Good Pope John”) was a grandfatherly figure when he was first elected pope. He was thought to be a transitional figure, but he surprised everyone by calling for a profound spiritual renewal of the Church and its institutions.

Karol Wotyla (“John Paul the Great”) was a surprise choice—the first non-Italian pope in centuries. He brought to the Petrine ministry a dynamic personality that combined boundless energy with an iron will that set the stage for the “new evangelization.”

They were very different men. What unites them to one another, and to all the saints, is holiness.

What is this thing we call holiness? Where does it come from and what are we supposed to do with it?

The teachings of the Second Vatican Council make it very clear that “all baptized Christians are called to be holy.” This universal call to holiness is not optional, and it’s not just for special people—priests or religious, saints or superheroes.

We are all called to be holy. That means we are all called to accept the particular gifts and talents God has given us and to develop them, and share them generously, out of love for God and love for one another.

Holiness is the overflowing of God’s grace in our words and actions day in and day out. It is the sign that God is with us and that we are one with him.

To be holy is not the same thing as being perfect or without sin. Only the Blessed Virgin Mary was sinless, by the grace of God. The rest of the saints were sinners who confessed, repented and struggled—not always successfully—to sin no more. Saints are ordinary sinners who accepted God’s forgiveness and grew in their ability to know, love and serve God in extraordinary ways.

The saints show us how to live holy lives. They make it possible for us to see ourselves as better than we are and to grow in wisdom, compassion and dedicated service. Saints show us that there are many equally valid ways to live the one Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, the way, the truth and the life. The saints help us to understand that there are many diverse forms of spirituality that we can follow in our daily lives.

So we will rejoice with the whole Church when the date is set for the canonizations of Blessed John XXIII and Blessed John Paul II. These great men showed us how to live holy lives—in spite of our own sinfulness and the sin of the world.

Let’s ask them to intercede for us, and especially for Pope Francis and Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin, as they continue the spiritual renewal and the new evangelization set in motion by these blessed men of God. That in all things God may be glorified!

—Daniel Conway

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