Saints drive me crazy at times. Praying The Litany of Dominican Saints and Blesseds or reading Saint Dominic’s Family by Sr. Mary Jean Dorcy is both very inspiring but also depressing. The saints we rightly celebrate accomplished many great works for God. However, in accomplishing these works, they also had assistance I have not had: bilocation, guiding or confirming visions, miracles, etc. We are all called to be saints, as Léon Bloy powerfully notes: “The only real sadness, the only real failure, the only great tragedy in life, is not to become a saint.” Sainthood is essential to being human. The question, then, is: how does one become a saint?
Achieving sainthood is actually something simple. Pope Benedict XIV (1740–1758) had a simple process for evaluating the causes of saints presented to him for review. Did the candidate commit few venial sins that were atoned for by sorrow and penance and marked by a continual effort to improve, or did the candidate frequently commit venial sins that were not acknowledged and atoned for? Only the former were approved.
The way to reach the holiness of sainthood is to live our life and our vocation fully, according to our particular state of life. The laity achieve this holiness precisely by being in the world and through their daily work. “For all their works, prayers and apostolic endeavors, their ordinary married and family life, their daily occupations, their physical and mental relaxation, if carried out in the Spirit, and even the hardships of life, if patiently borne” help make the laity holy (Lumen Gentium 34).
For religious, the path to holiness is through the living out of one’s vows and the following of the religious rule. Over the years, many religious sisters asked Mother Teresa to let them leave their communities and join the Missionaries of Charity. The saint wrote back and asked them to delay their decision for one year, during which time they were to assiduously follow the rule of their own congregation and live out their vows and life fully. After that year, very few still wanted to join the Missionaries of Charity. The great joy that drew them to follow God’s calling in their own orders was rekindled, a joy which only comes through following one’s particular way of life closely.
Sainthood is not about heroic action or about grand manifestations of God’s power. Rather, it concerns the small, everyday aspects of our life. Ordering our lives towards God by removing the small sins of daily life: this is the heroic action worthy of a saint. Then, we can respond more easily and freely should God ask of us something more challenging.
On this feast of All Dominican Saints, we implore the intercession of all our Dominican Saints and Blesseds—those raised to the altars, named in our prayers, and quoted in our histories as well as those unnamed and known only to God—to help us live our lives more fully, walking ever closer to God in the ways proper to our states of life so that we may become saints.
All you Dominican Saints and Blesseds, Holy Men and Women of God, pray for us.
Image: Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P., Mural of Dominican Saints at the Dominican House of Studies (detail), used with permission