Homily for the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)

We are all invited to work in the Lord's vineyard. But the Lord does not force anyone. He only invites. If someone doesn't want to work, or wants to only under his own conditions, he does not have to do so. In the Gospel we heard a parable about persons who wanted to work only under the stipulation that they themselves would dispose of the vineyard and its fruits. When we hear this story, we might think, how could they be so stupid? How could they think, if we just kill the owner's son, he'll have to put us in his son's place? What kind of madness is this?

It may be easy enough to criticize the men in this parable at a comfortable distance. But I think Jesus is here pointing to a real danger, a danger also for us. When we really want something, we want to see it through. And it is good that way. We shouldn't be like jellyfish, unable to stick to anything with firmness. But this desire to see things through carries a danger with it, that we become blind to reality: we see only the way that we imagine for ourselves, the way on which we have decided—whether or not that way is the right one. Let's imagine the tenants again, with a bit of imagination: they thought to themselves: “It is unjust for the owner to take such a portion of the fruit for himself, though he hasn't been around working on the field, harvesting the grapes, etc.” And when he sends his servants to get his portion, they think, “We must be strong. We must resist, in order to get our rights.” And they beat the servants. When the owner sends still more servants, they think, “He is simply deaf. He won't accept that the fruits belong to us.” And they are completely confident, they have to just resist still more steadfastly. Finally, when the owner sends his son, they think, “If we kill him, then the owner will have no other choice. He'll have to make us the heirs, if he wants to keep the vineyard running.” All quite logical. But a view of the whole is lacking. They are not the only ones who have to live from the fruit of the vineyard. And everything does not depend on them.

This image is perhaps a bit fantastic. Nevertheless I believe the core is true, and a real danger. They wanted to push themselves through, and became blind to the reality, to the actual situation with the owner, the vineyard, and the other persons involved. And we are all, without exception, tempted in this or that field to push our own will through, instead of listening to Jesus's will, and are in danger of losing sight of the reality that is expressed in this divine will. We see this perhaps more clearly in larger, tragic cases: perhaps someone enters into an ill-advised marriage against the advice of parents, friends, and spiritual father, and winds up unhappy, or someone gets involved in drugs despite knowing it's not really the right way, or the insistence on the right to dispose of one's own body and to determine one's family as one wills leads to a father and mother killing their own child. These are the more obvious cases. But we are all tempted to it in smaller, daily cases.

To take this attitude to its ultimate completion is the worst thing that can possibly happen: that instead of us saying to God with joy and without reservation, “Thy will be done!”, God has to say with sadness, “Thy will be done. You do not want to live for my kingdom. You do not have to, and if you do not want to, you shall not.” This outcome at the end of today's Gospel reading, “The Kingdom of God will be taken away from you” (Mat 21:43), is like God's “last resort”, what he does when everything else is in vain. Only when God has done everything, and we still refuse to accept his will, would he say to us, “Thy will be done.” The reverse side, or the opposite of this terrifying possibility is presented to us in the Letter to the Philippians. If we do not lose sight of God, but place everything before him, all our concerns and our worries, and listen attentively to him, his peace will fill our hearts. Someone makes a sacrifice for his family, sticks by a friend in a difficult period, gives up his own will to serve and to do God's will, and finds therein deep peace. In this celebration of the Eucharist let us make especially consciously this prayer, which we pray frequently in the Our Father. “Thy Will be done!”

Attitudes to Marriage and Holiness

This post is a partial response to a question raised on the post Married Saints and Continence.

The attitudes of Christians towards marriage and holiness have changed in the past centuries, and in a particular way in the 20th century.

In regard to the value of marriage and marital sexual relations, we might overall describe the change as an increase in realism (a change for the better), and a decrease in idealism (understood as orienting oneself by and striving for noble ideals–a change for the worse).

By the increase in realism I mean a greater appreciation of temporal reality, for instance, of how concretely the human ties to one's family can be an occasion and impulse to better live a truly human and Christian life, as well as how the marital act, if done with true love and concern for the spouse, can strengthen the relationship and consequently the family and Christian life of the spouses.

By the decrease in idealism I mean a lesser appreciation of the goods that though truest, are not directly visible or tangible: a lesser appreciation that only one thing really matters, that this life is only a shadow of that which is life in the fullest sense, etc.

The following texts, and some reflection on our reaction to them, may help illustrate this:

"Are you free from a wife? Do not seek marriage" (1 Cor 7:27). … Even if marriage had no troubles, it would still be better for us to press forward toward the things yet to come. But since marriage does have its troubles, why be further burdened by it? (St. John Chrysostom Homily 19)

Now that resurrection is at our gates, and we do not speak of death, but advance toward another life better than the present, the desire for posterity is superfluous. If you desire children, you can get much better old age, if you give birth by spiritual labor. So there remains only one reason for marriage, to avoid
fornication (St. John Chrysostom, Sermon on marriage).

As a side note, we may remark that this is said by a theologian and pastor who has a quite positive view of marriage:

"Pray together at home and go to Church; when you come back home, let each ask the other the meaning of the readings and the prayers…. Remind one another that nothing in life is to be feared, except offending God. If your marriage is like this, your perfection will rival the holiest of monks.

Seek the things which please God, and those which please man will follow soon enough…. It is possible for us to surpass all others in virtue by becoming good husbands and wives. (Homily 20).

Translations from On Marriage and Family Life, translated by Catharine P. Roth and David Anderson, St Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1986.

From St. Teresa of the Andes (1900-1920):

I'll give you some lights that can help you recognize your vocation… Do you have a strong desire to belong to God alone, and serve Him as much as you can, with the greatest perfection? That was the ideal God proposed to us when He created us: that we should serve Him and love Him above all things. Do you think your heart can be satisfied with the love of creatures, who for the most part and most times are fickle and fleeting? … Do you think that marriage to a young man is a happy venture, with a man with whom you can form a Christian home? Does that attract you? Wouldn't you prefer to belong to God, to live despised and unknown to the world in a convent, forming thousands of Christian hearts, being a mother of those souls, converting and bringing them to God? … Who can love us like God does? No one in the world.

… My dear little sister, think about all this. And if you're able to renounce all these comforts to live with Him, to be the bride of the divine Crucified One – clearly aided by God's grace – it's because God wants you for Himself, and because He's giving you the courage to abandon everything for Him. Letter 65, To a Girl Friend. Letters of Saint Teresa of The Andes, translated by Michael D. Griffin, Teresian Charism Press, 1994.

These statements tend to make us somewhat uncomfortable, as implying a too negative or disparaging view of marriage–unless we simply disagree with them. However, it seems to me that there are many statements of Christ and of St. Paul that tend to make us uncomfortable, and for rather similar reasons:

Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.  For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matthew 7:13-14)

I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear him! (Luke 12:5)

Relatively speaking (in comparison with persons living in earlier times), these and similar sayings tend to make us uncomfortable, because they seem too negative or pessimistic.

From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the form of this world is passing away (1 Corinthians 7:29-31).

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.  For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God (Colossians 3:1-3).

We are similarly inclined to see these statements (certainly if someone now makes similar statements) as implying escapism and a negative view of the created world, and have difficulty identifying with them.

Right and Wrong Ways To Assess the Changes in Attitude to Marriage

In reviewing and evaluating the changes that have taken place in attitudes to marriage and the relationship between marriage and holiness, there are two errors we should avoid. On the one hand, we should be capable of a critical look at the tradition and refrain from immediately canonizing everything in the tradition. On the other hand, we should not set up ourselves (modern man or the modern Christian) as the reference point for evaluating the developments in the tradition; if we do so, then of course we will see the present attitude as the right one, and more traditional attitudes as imperfect or wrong to the degree that they deviate from present attitudes. Rather, the teaching of Christ and of the Apostles is the principal reference point for assessing both the attitudes to be found in the authors and saints in Christian history, and modern attitudes.

If we take this approach, in my opinion we do find a certain tendency to a lopsidedness in the Christian tradition–a favoring of continence, celibacy and virginity that lends a negative tone to speech about and attitudes toward marriage. We also find, however, that the modern Christian has lost a great deal of the fire of the early Christians and of the ideals present throughout the Christian tradition, and that it is in part due to this loss that most of the Christian tradition on marriage seems to him to be obviously a distortion of the truth about marriage.

What is needed is for us to on the one hand regain what has been lost of the faith and conviction of earlier Christians, and on the other hand to integrate recent positive insights into marriage and the call to holiness into a renewed and sound Christian view of life.

Married Saints and Continence

In an earlier post, Married Saints – Why so few?, I addressed the question of why there are so few married saints canonized as married saints, that is, in view of the life they lived as married persons. In the comment thread to that post, I was asked why so many of the married persons who have been canonized lived in continence, that is, without having sexual intercourse with their spouse for a significant portion of their life as married persons.

Again, there are several possible answers, grouped according to the general manner they explain the connection between this continence and canonization.

There is a positive correlation from continence to charity (continence contributes to charity, or is thought to do so)

(1a) Such continence is in fact extremely helpful, indeed practically necessary in order to attain the heroic virtue to which canonization attests.

(1b) Such continence was thought to be necessary in order to attain the perfection of charity.

Amongst all relationships, conjugal affection engrosses men’s hearts more than another other, so that our first parent said: “A man leaves father and mother, and clings to his wife” (Gen. 2:24). Hence, they who are aiming at perfection, must, above all things, avoid the bond of marriage.
The second way to perfection, by which a man may be more free to devote himself to God, and to cling more perfectly to him, is the observance of perpetual chastity… The way of continence is most necessary for attaining perfection… Abraham had so great spiritual perfection in virtue, that his spirit did not fall short of perfect love for God on account either of temporal possessions or of married life. But if another man who does not have the same spiritual virtue, strives to attain perfection, while retaining riches and entering into marriage, his error in presuming to treat Our Lord's words as of small account will soon be demonstrated. (St. Thomas Aquinas, On The Perfection of the Spiritual Life; this quotation, from a saint and universal doctor of the Church, is intended as support for 1a and 1b.)

There is a positive correlation from continence to canonization

(2) The holiness of married saints who practiced such continence is more evident than the holiness of others.

One reason for this, as I mentioned in the previous post, is that holiness always involves following the spirit of the evangelical counsels (poverty, chastity, obedience); and other things being equal, someone's following the spirit of the counsels is more evident when it is incarnated in the literal following of the counsels.

There is a positive correlation from holiness to continence

(3) Those who are well advanced in charity and the other virtues are disposed and desirous of practicing such continence. (This may follow to some extent of itself, and to so extent due to 1b.)

Fulton Sheen, in his work Three to Get Married, suggests something along these lines:

All love is a flight towards immortality. There is a suggestion of Divine Love in every form of erotic love, as the lake reflects the moon…. Sex is only the self-starter on the motor of the family…. The begetting of children enlarges the field of service and loving sacrifice for the sake of the family. In a well-regulated moral heart, as time goes on, the erotic love diminishes and the religious love increases. In marriages that are truly Christian, the love of God increases through the years, not in the sense that husband and wife love one another less, but that they love God more. Love passes from an affection for outer appearances to those inner depths of personality which embody the Divine spirit. There are few things more beautiful in life than to see that deep passion of man for woman, which begot children, transfigured into that deeper passion for the Spirit of God. It sometimes happens in a Christian marriage that when one of the partners dies, there is no taking of another spouse, lest there be the descent to lower realms from that higher love, from the Agape to the Eros.

As before, so here I suggest the answer is, in varying degrees: all of the above. Continence in its various forms (the periodic continence practiced in NFP, continence during times of more intensive prayer (e.g., Lent) mentioned by St. Paul, or continence after the children-bearing time) is a valuable means to growth in the gift of oneself implied in charity; it was considered to be a valuable, practically necessary means; it manifests virtue; and it often flows naturally from charity.

A few points to be made pertinent to the remarks of the commentator in the previous post

(a) A spiritual director might rightly refrain from taking any initiative in advising a particular couple to such continence for a long period, and might caution them if they are desirous of practicing it for a long period. That does not mean, however, that he would or should strongly disallow or strongly advise against it.

(b) There have definitely been various developments in the Church's understanding of virginity and marriage. It seems quite true to say that in praising virginity and continence, marital relationships were not infrequently excessively devalued. There are various reasons for this, one of which is that in general there was a greater concern to safeguard the special value of virginity than of marriage. Hence, if it was difficult to avoid either failing to properly appreciate virginity or failing to properly appreciate marriage, as it was and is difficult for people to properly appreciate both, they preferred to fail to properly appreciate marriage rather than to fail to appreciate virginity, with the natural consequence that in many cases they did fail to properly appreciate marriage.

(c) To affirm a greater possibility of love in giving sex up for the sake of a greater good, as in the case of celibacy or continence, does not imply that sex is bad or even hinders any particular degree of holiness, anymore than the affirmation that "there is no greater love than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" means that life is bad, or that living is an obstacle to becoming holy.

Married Saints – Why so few?

Why are there so few married saints? And especially, why are there so few who were canonized precisely as married persons? Most married persons who have been canonized have not been canonized precisely as married persons, but as martyrs, or as religious or widows in the case of those who devoted themselves to the religious state or the state of widowhood after their spouse's death (or in some cases, by the mutual agreement of the spouses). And to my knowledge, in the modern formal process of canonization there have been no married couples canonized as such, though two couples have been beatified together, and may in the future be canonized: Luigi Beltrame Quattrocchi and Maria Corsini, and Louis Martin and Marie Celine Guerin (the parents of St. Therese).

The different explanations made for this fact can be grouped into three categories:

(1) There simply aren't many married saints, because of the practical concerns of married life that make it hard to focus entirely on God and his will.
(2) While there are plenty of married persons who are truly saintly, the exemplar of holiness can be seen more evidently in martyrs or religious than in married persons, and therefore it is mostly these who are canonized.
(3) Married saints are not so frequently recognized for what they are.

Sometimes one of this reasons is given as more or less the entire explanation, but I think there is actually some truth in all three of these explanations:

Fewer married saints

(1) St. Paul says, "To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain single as I do. … The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; but the married man is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried woman or girl is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord. … so he who marries does well; and he who refrains from marriage will do better." (1 Corinthians 7:8,32-35,38) The evangelical counsel of chastity (see Mat 19:10-12) is proposed as a means for securing "undivided devotion" to God. The Christian tradition retains this idea, so that it is said "You would find many among us, both men and women, growing old unmarried, in hope of living in closer communion with God" (Athenagoras, A plea for the Christians, Chap. 33).

Pope John Paul II mentions the fact that most canonized saints are religious as evidence for the value of the religious state as a means to perfection, thus suggesting that the superiority of the religious state as a means for growing in the love of God is a reason for the greater number of religious canonized:

Religious communities are called to the duty of perfection, clearly expressed by Christ in his conversation with the young man: "If you wish to be perfect" (Mt 19:21). Later, down the centuries, the Church's tradition has given a doctrinal and practical expression to these words. The state of perfection is not only theory. It is life. And it is precisely life that confirms the truth of Christ's words: do not the majority of canonized saints come from religious Orders or Congregations?

These words, from a pope who has himself canonized a number of married persons, and who is always careful to note the call of every person to holiness and to the perfection of charity, are not without their weight.

But is the scarcity of canonized married persons due principally to the fact that marriage isn't as suitable a means as religious life for attaining holiness, or is it also due to the fact that marriage wasn't properly appreciated as a means for attaining holiness? Because the married state was not seen as a particularly helpful state for growing in divine love and holiness, those who intended to devote themselves most earnestly to this spiritual growth tended to refrain from marriage if possible, with the consequence that there were relatively few exemplary holy persons in marriage. St. Augustine points out: "[There are some marriages in which the spouses are not divided in heart, but completely devoted to God.] But they are very rare: who denies this? And being rare, nearly all the persons who are such, were not joined together in order to be such, but being already joined together became such (On the Good of Marriage, n. 14). That is, where there are few examples of holy marriages, people will more rarely enter marriage seeking or expecting to become holy through marriage." In this sense, the paucity of married saints is arguably a self-reinforcing prediction. The more emphasis that was put on the religious state as a means to holiness, the more rarely would persons choose marriage in order to become holy. And with fewer persons choosing marriage as a means to holiness, the fewer persons there were who attained exemplary sainthood in marriage, etc. (See my earlier post, Is Marriage for the Weak?).

Visibility of holiness

(2) In the early Church, only the martyrs were regarded the way we now regard canonized saints (the term "saint" itself was then used for all the faithful). In martyrdom the imitation and love of Christ is most perfectly manifest, inasmuch as Christ himself gave his life for the life of the world, and inasmuch as there is no greater love than to lay down one's life for the beloved. As martyrdom became more infrequent, but people still needed contemporary examples of sanctity to honor and to look to, the notion of venerable sainthood was extended to those who did not lay down their lives in martyrdom, but who, as far as possible, left everything to follow Christ, since this is the next most clear manifestation of the Christian call to deny oneself and to follow him.

In fact, the path to holiness always involves the evangelical counsels in some way; if not literally, as in the consecrated state, and least in spirit. All Christians are called to follow the spirit of the counsels. And naturally, the taking up of the counsels both literally and spiritually, as practiced by the saints who embraced the evangelical counsels literally, is the example or model for following the counsels spiritually. And in this sense, religious are already seen as models for the laity, not in the sense that the laity should desire to imitate the exterior form of the life of consecrated religious, but in the sense that they should imitate the inner content, that which is expressed, or meant to be expressed, by the exterior form of life of consecrated religious.

As regards canonized saints' being models of holiness, there could be advantages and disadvantages to having "normal" persons from every state of life canonized. On the one hand, one might argue that people need models of sainthood in the state of life in which they live, and so the model of life provided by the consecrated religious is not adequate for married persons–they also need models of saintly married persons. In fact the idea of saints being models was less emphasized early in the Church than it is now. From the point of view of being models, there is much to be said for having numerous canonized saints from every Christian state of life.

On the other hand, one might argue that canonizing people who seem entirely "normal", could lead to a misunderstanding of the radical call to perfect holiness addressed to every Christian. There is a certain danger of looking at all that the saints have in common with us, becoming self-complacent, and neglecting the need to purify ourselves more and more.

Recognition of holiness-process of canonization

(3) The holiness of "normal," married persons living in the world was less likely to be recognized, because the formal process of canonization required much time and effort, a detailed investigation into the person's life, and accepted miracles. These conditions were more frequently and better provided in the case of religious than in the case of married persons: (a) religious communities have much more people and time for seeking canonizations of their members than normal lay persons do; (b) for much of the Church's history, religious were better educated, and were more likely to be able to write, and thus to become known through their writings, whereas lay persons were only known through more direct contact; thus more recorded information about their life would be available (especially important in cases when the cause for canonization was taken up only many years after the person's death), and there would be more people interested in and supporting the person's canonization.

Supporting this argument, those lay persons who were well-known, and who had more persons interested in their canonization; either on account of their position, as in the case of royalty (St. Edward the Confessor, St. Louis of France, Bl. Karl of Austria), or on account of mystical experiences or visions (e.g., St. Catherine of Genoa, Bl. Anna Maria Taigi), have been, in comparison with their small numbers, relatively frequently canonized.

Biography of married saints

Some books have been devoted to biographies of married saints. John F. Fink has compiled a biography of twenty-four married saints (the link is to the description at the publisher, Alba House. The book may also be purchased at Amazon). These twenty-four saints do include several who were canonized for other reasons, such as St. Thomas More, canonized as a martyr.

A book by Ferdinand Holbock describes briefly the lives of over 200 married saints and blesseds: Married Saints and Blesseds: Through the Centuries.

Universal Call to Holiness

"There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call" (Eph. 4:4).

St. Francis de Sales, whose feast we celebrate today, is known for his teaching that all Christians are called to holiness. The teaching of the universal call to holiness did not originate with the Second Vatican Council, but was also taught before. "Universal call," means, quite simply, that all men and women and called to holiness. And in Casti Connubii, for example, Pope Pius XI says precisely that: "All men of every condition," in whatever state of life they are, "can and ought to imitate that most perfect example of holiness," Christ himself, "and by God's grace to arrive at the summit of perfection." (n. 23) Nevertheless the universal call to holiness is a particularly special emphasis of the Second Vatican Council; it is taken up expressly in Chapter 5 of Lumen Gentium, which we look at today. The following is an attempt to draw out briefly some of the basic important points made in this chapter on this universal vocation of all Christians.

The Fathers of Vatican II see the call to holiness as deriving from two sources: the mystery of the Church, and more fundamentally, the mystery of Christ himself.

The Church and Holiness
"The Church is believed to be indefectibly holy" (n. 39), for Christ gave himself up for her "that he might sanctify her," uniting her to himself as his body and perfecting her by the gift of the Holy Spirit. Because the Church is holy, all members of the Church are called to be holy, "to become what they are," and to manifest this holiness in their lives, by faithfulness to the movement of the Spirit, by the practice of charity.

Christ and Holiness
Christ himself preached holiness of life to all. "Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." He provided the means for holiness, sending the Spirit, who pours love into men's hearts, that they might love God above all, and love each other as Christ loves them. Moreover, in baptism the faithful put on Christ, becoming sons of God and sharers in the divine nature. Thus they are made holy by the grace of God. They must then hold on to this holiness and live it out in their concrete lives, they must live in a manner that is fitting to those who are holy.

The Council concludes then, that all members of the Church, all Christ's faithful, whatever their rank or status, are called to the fullness of Christian life and the perfection of charity.

Attainment of Holiness
The concrete way of attaining holiness and the perfection of charity depends on one's situation and duties, yet some things can be said in general:
(1) we should use our strengths and talents as a gift from Christ.
(2) We should follow Christ and become like him, seeking the Father's will in all things, the glory of God and the good of our neighbor.
(3) We should use our personal gifts and fulfill our duties in the spirit of faith working through love.
(4) We should receive all things with faith from the hand of the heavenly Father.

These four means of attaining holiness can be grouped into two basic attitudes: the spirit to accept all things as coming from the loving hand of God, and the aim to do all things in accordance with God's will out of love for him.

The Council in the following paragraphs makes a number of particular remarks on the paths to holiness of bishops, priests, clerics, married persons, and those who suffer. It then returns to the theme of holiness as the common pursuit of all. Holiness is first of all a gift of grace, the gift of love by which we love God above all things and our neighbor for God's sake. But in order for love to grow, we must cooperate with this grace, completing what God has begun in us. (n. 42)

Some actions flowing from grace are common to all Christians: the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, participation in the liturgy, prayer, self-denial, service of our brothers and sisters, and the practice of all the virtues. All such actions are to be ruled by charity, enlivened by charity, and expressions of charity.

Some exceptional expressions of love, which are not actually common to all Christians, are given particular mention by the Council.

The greatest proof of love is martyrdom. There is no greater love than to lay down one's life for Christ and one's brethren. Not all will be faced with martyrdom, but all must be prepared to confess Christ, whatever may come, whether it means losing one's job, one's reputation, or even one's life.

Virginity, Poverty, and Obedience
The evangelical counsels of virginity/celibacy, poverty, and obedience are special means for fostering the holiness of the Church, each being in its own way a particular imitation of Christ.

The chapter closes with the summary statement: "all the faithful of Christ are invited to strive for the holiness and perfection of their own proper state. Indeed they have an obligation to so strive."

Call to Holiness in Marriage
See also the article on the call to holiness in Christian marriage.

Universal Call to Poverty?
The spirit of poverty, and even a degree of actual poverty, is a invitation and call not only to religious, but to all Christians. A very worth-while book on the gospel call to poverty is Happy Are You Poor: The Simple Life and Spiritual Freedom by Thomas Dubay. This book is written for all Catholics (not just for those considering or discerning a religious vocation!) and seeks to present the Gospel challenge simply and directly, and thus help them to live their Christian vocation.

Every saint is unique

Virgin Mary and saints
St. Catherine of Sienna in her Treatise of Divine Providence keeps to the teaching that the virtues are connected, i.e., that whoever has one virtue, must have all of them. Nevertheless she teaches that God gives to each person one particular virtue as principal: to one he gives principally love, to another justice, to another humility, to another faith, to another prudence, to another patience, etc. It is then especially by the exercise of this virtue that the person grows in all the virtues, due to their being connected in love. (In another words, it is chiefly in the one principal virtue God gives the person that the divine love is expressed and actualized, and yet because it is truly divine love that shines forth and is exercised in this virtue, this love is deepened and increases, and thus gives greater strength and vitality to all the virtues, of which it is the heart.)

The love of God and neighbor, while it elevates and ennobles all human faculties, and while it does require a struggle against the baser inclinations of nature, does not destroy or level out different characters or personalities, but perfects them. Every saint thus has his own unique character, by which he grows in and lives out the holy love of God and neighbor. We will only fully appreciate this in heaven, where we will see the full beauty and harmony of how all the different saints show forth in their own special ways the glory of God's love.

Feast of all the Saints

Crucifixion with saints by Fra Angelico
On the feast of All Saints, we honor all the saints who lived in the divine love, both the known saints and those who are unknown or forgotten. There are too many saints for every one of them to have his or her own feast, and there are many saints who were not recognized as such here on earth, or if they were recognized, only by a few. May this "great cloud of witnesses" also spur us on in recalling that we too are called to be holy as our Lord is holy, we are called to take up our cross, to give our lives, to follow after him in love. Leon Bloy wrote, "There is but one tragedy: not to be a saint." Likewise there is only one real "success" in life: to be a saint.

In this image by Fra Angelico, the saints are depicted in adoration before Christ on the crucifix, who is the source of all holiness. The saints also in heaven worship the "Lamb who was slain."