The possibility of sainthood

In his message for the 2000 World Youth Day in Rome, Pope Saint John Paul II fervently rallied the millions of people who would gather together with this stirring challenge: "Dear young people, do not be afraid to be the saints of the new millennium!" (cf. John Paul II, Message to the Youth of the World on the Occasion of the 15th World Youth Day, June 29, 1999). This was startling to many who asked, "Me? A saint? Isn't sainthood reserved for those with special graces and heroic virtue?" The late Holy Father - and now a saint - was emphasizing the universal call to holiness shared by every person. Sainthood is possible for all of us. In fact, it is that for which we have all been created.

When reading the lives of the saints, it is evident that there is no one path, no single prescribed formula, to become holy. In fact, there are as many ways to sainthood as there are people in the world. This is a testament to many realities: God's boundless creativity, His personal care for our unique needs and individual souls and His respect for our free response to grace. There are saints from every stage and state of life, from every culture and part of the globe, from every historical and cultural era. Men and women are made holy at all times and in all circumstances.

What kinds of saints will our time produce? In this cultural and historical moment, we need women and men who choose life when facing an unplanned pregnancy or unexpected pre-natal diagnosis; single persons who live full and attractive lives while committing to chastity; priests and men and women religious who are willing to give up worldly attractions and rewards for the Kingdom of God; elderly and ill persons who heroically face their suffering at the end of life; professionals who enrich the economic sphere while holding fast to the moral dictates of their consciences; people committed to the service of the poor and the vulnerable; and those who fight the plague of loneliness and despair, instead choosing to cling to hope, which endures because it is anchored in the Lord Jesus.

Moreover, in a culture in which the foundations of marriage and family life are being called into question and undermined, our world needs to see need husbands and wives who cultivate a holy family life. This was Pope Francis' message at the Festival of Families in Philadelphia: "Thank you to those who were willing to give their testimonies. Thank you to those who gladdened us with your heart, with the beauty which is the path to reach God. Thank you all, those who have offered their witness, and for the presence of all of you, a real witness that it's worth being a family!" (cf. Pope Francis, unscripted remarks at the Festival of Families, Philadelphia, Sept. 26, 2015).

On Oct. 18, the Church gained two new saints, Louis and Zélie Martin, who are the first spouses to be canonized together. At the homily during the Mass of Canonization, Pope Francis said, "The holy spouses Louis Martin and Marie-Azélie Guérin practiced Christian service in the family, creating day by day an environment of faith and love which nurtured the vocations of their daughters, among whom was Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus" (cf. Pope Francis, Homily, Sunday, Oct. 18, 2015). While they might seem as if they had perfect marriage, married life was not easy for them. To the contrary, their holiness was forged in the furnace of suffering. The couple lost four of their nine children; Zélie was diagnosed with breast cancer and died at the age of 45; and Louis suffered several strokes before passing away seven years later. Lastly, their daily lives required courage to practice their faith in France at a time when the spiritual authority of the Church had been radically called into question.

What is it that aids men and women, of all times and circumstances, on their path to holiness? Every saint attests that prayer and perseverance are key. Prayer is essential for the spiritual life. It keeps us tethered to God and our minds and hearts fixed on eternity. Although setting aside time for prayer is particularly difficult in our fast-paced culture, anyone can start with a small offering - even five minutes per day - to speak to God heart to heart.

And though some saints are known for particular moments of heroic virtue, the lives of all saints include the cultivation of small virtues and habits which dispose them to the good. It is by persevering each day in our ordinary tasks and challenges that we are made holy. Our Lord assures us, "By your perseverance, you will secure your lives" (cf. Lk 21:19).

Is it possible to be a saint today? Pope Saint John Paul II offers us an answer: "If we had to rely only on human strength, the undertaking would be truly impossible." But "with Christ, saintliness - the divine plan for every baptized person - becomes possible" (cf. John Paul II, Message to the Youth of the World on the Occasion of the 15th World Youth Day, June 29, 1999). May we have the courage and perseverance to become the saints of this millennium!

Follow Bishop Loverde on Twitter @Bishop_Loverde.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015