One of the few criticisms sometimes made of Pope John Paul II’s papacy was that he canonized too many people. Yet, this fails to be an issue when we realize that we are all called to be saints. The Gospel of Matthew tells us to “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mt 5:48) The Vatican II document Lumen Gentium reinforces that idea: “All Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of charity.”
I’m currently reading “The Intimate Life of Sister Lucia” by Father Robert J. Fox (Fatima Family Apostalate, 2001). Sister Lucia was the oldest of the three children who saw Mary at Fatima. She passed away in 2005 at the age of 97. The five-year time period has not yet passed before a formal process into her canonization can begin, yet there are few who would dispute her holiness.
The title of Chapter 8, “No One is Born a Saint,” struck me. How true are those words! None of us are born saints. We are born with all of our human weakness. Yet, each of us is born with the potential to be saints. Our sole purpose in life is to ultimately be joined with God in heaven. Thomas Merton once remarked that to become a saint, one must want to be one. It must be the goal of our existence.
Yet we often don’t see life in those terms. When asked, “What do you want to be?” we are likely to answer in more earthly terms. We might want to be a good parent or successful in our work. There is certainly nothing wrong with those goals, but they don’t take into account the larger picture. This life is temporary. If we are lucky, we might have 100 years to make our mark on the world. Eternal life is just that, eternal.
We might also think that sanctity is for other people. Priests and nuns might be called to be saints, but surely not us. Nothing could be further from the truth. Vatican II debunked the idea that there were two paths to holiness once and for all. There isn’t one road for those who have committed themselves to religious life and another for the rest of us. We can be holy living our own vocation, whatever that may be. We can be holy changing diapers or working in a factory or managing an office. We can offer our lives as a prayer; we can sacrifice; we can listen for God in the stillness.
We are called to pray and serve God right where we are. We are called to follow the commandments and to do the right thing even when it is hard. We are called to work on our faults and to seek God’s forgiveness when we fail. We are called to love God and neighbor. We are called to serve. We are called to be as holy as we can be. We may never be canonized, but we are called to be saints.