October 26, 2007

Faith and Family / Sean Gallagher

We’re all called to be saints

Sean GallagherNov. 1 is All Saints Day. For years, it’s been one of my favorite feasts.

Now I’m trying to help our young sons learn to love the saints, too.

In July, my wife, Cindy, and I purchased the two-volume set Saints for Young Readers for Every Day (Pauline, 2005).

Each evening at supper, we pray the meal blessing. After it’s over, we ask for that day’s saint’s intercession.

Then, during the meal, I’ll usually read from the book the story of the day’s saint, which is usually about a page long, sometimes filling it in with stories about the saint that I’ve learned along the way.

This is a simple way for parents to show their children how all kinds of people through the ages have loved Jesus and shared that love with others.

One thing I’ve noticed in my study of Church history and in teaching the faith to our boys is that a large number of the Church’s saints were either men or woman religious, those who were ordained or martyrs who died in times of persecution.

I deeply appreciate these holy men and women, and try to show our boys how they can emulate their virtues.

While there are a good number of married saints, they often lived long ago in circumstances very different from our own or, in many cases, were kings, queens or other members of the nobility.

These men and women are still gifts from God so I venerate them and encourage our sons to value them as well.

But there doesn’t seem to be many that might be called “ordinary” married or other lay saints from modern times.

There are exceptions. St. Gianna Berretta Molla was an Italian mother and physician who died in 1962 a week after the birth of her fourth child. During her pregnancy, she was diagnosed with an ovarian cyst.

Her doctor recommended that she abort her baby because of the seriousness of her condition, but she refused.

Franz Jagerstetter will be beatified on Oct. 26 in Linz, Austria. An Austrian father of three and a farmer, Franz’s sanctity became well known through, among other things, the fact that he was executed in 1943 after he refused to serve in the German army, claiming that his Catholic faith was incompatible with such service.

While this man and woman are worthy of praise for their holiness and are emblematic of the struggles for people of faith in the past century, they still seem exceptional. Their holiness was tried in the fires of harsh trials that most of us aren’t asked to face.

Yet the message of All Saints Day is that every person who is baptized is called to be a saint. Now it is arguably true that most of those saints who surround God’s throne in heaven are not and will never be formally canonized.

But it would be good for us to have officially sanctioned models to look to for inspiration.

Some say that the Church’s leaders who oversee canonizations are responsible for this lack of ordinary modern lay saints.

But a formal process that could lead to a canonization starts with the emergence—at the grassroots level—of an individual’s reputation for holiness.

We need not necessarily look at our Uncle Henry or the neighbor down the street as possible saints, although we should learn from their holiness.

But as long as the laity don’t consider and manifest in the ordinary events of their daily lives that becoming a saint is the number one goal of their lives, we aren’t going to have a lot of lay men and women like you and me added to the Church’s role of saints. †

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