Becoming a Saint in the Midst of the World

In the Catholic Church, Masses are celebrated every day of the year (except Good Friday when only Communion Services are held), and from the Lectionary, Bible passages are read, on a liturgical cycle, every day at these liturgical celebrations [the readings for the day may be found here. My wife and I used to be members of an adult education group at our old parish in Dayton, Ohio, which hosts short reflections on each of the day’s readings [available here]. My wife and I each still usually write two reflections a week for their website. I try to provide points of application at the end of my reflections. Often, I’ve had people come up to me and ask how we lay people are supposed to put some of these applications into practice: how are we to pray continually? How are we to share our faith? How can we devote our lives to serving others day-to-day? I’ve often encountered objections like the following: sure, I could pray continually if I were a monk or nun in a monastery. Sure, I could share my faith with others if I were a full-time missionary, like a religious brother or sister in some foreign country. Sure, I could devote my life to service if I were a Franciscan. But what about those of us who stay at home all day with children? What about those of us who work long hours in our various occupations, with computers or in manual labor or in other professions? 

Recently my wife and I have been reading through St. Francis de Sales’ masterful spiritual classic, Introduction to the Devout Life. St. Francis de Sales’ preface has a great passage that I think has much to say on these matters. 

He explains that he is not writing for the vowed religious in orders or monasteries, but for

those who live in town, within families, or at court, and by their state of life are obliged to live an ordinary life as to outward appearances….just as the mother of pearl fish lives in the sea without taking in a single drop of salt water, just as near the Chelodonian islands springs of fresh water may be found in the depths of the sea, and just as the firefly passes through flames without burning its wings, so also a strong, resolute soul can live in the world without being infected by any of its moods, find sweet springs of piety amid its salty waves, and fly through the flames of earthly lusts without burning the wings of its holy desires for a devout life.1 

In short, we are all called to become Saints, regardless of our vocation or state in life. This is the “universal call to holiness” about which the Second Vatican Council taught (5th Ch. of Lumen Gentium). We can pray at all times (e.g., 1 Thess. 5:17) by practicing the presence of God, offering short prayers before we work (e.g., cleaning dishes, typing at the computer, attending meetings, fixing plumbing, etc.) thereby transforming our very work into prayer, and even silently praying brief prayers while we work (e.g., “Jesus, I love you,” “O God come to my assistance,” etc.). All of us can share our faith with others. We can do this by telling our family members, friends, colleagues, about how God has worked in our lives. We talk to people about our friends, spouses, parents, and children; we can also talk to people about our relationship with God, since that relationship is the most important one we have. Sometimes we’ll be called upon to explain the faith to the best of our abilities. This will take study and experience, but we all have to begin at some point if we are ever to gain such important experience. Finally, we can serve others in numerous ways that are simple (but not easy) every day: pray for others, offer our work and sufferings as prayers for others; doing the little things well (smiling for others, cleaning up for others, simple greetings and courtesies, offering to lend a hand when the opportunity presents itself, being better listeners, etc.). 

Soup kitchens and service/mission trips are wonderful. But we all have daily opportunities which can draw us closer to God, and through which can draw others closer to God. Religious orders and communities are wonderful, necessary, and essential. But those of us who are not called to such vocations must not use that as an excuse to neglect God. God desires all of us to become Saints. For those of us who are called to live in the midst of the world, the very world becomes our monastery; the streets, the workplace, the many varied vehicles of transportation we use, all of these locales become for us our houses of prayer, our temples, and at the same time our mission field. The most important of these will always remain our home, where we are called upon to spread Christ’s love among the members of our family. In St. Francis de Sales’ words, we are to become souls living “in the world without becoming infected by” the world. 

St. Francis de Sales
St. Francis de Sales

All of us can become Saints. Such sanctity is achievable, although the path is arduous, and I’m as far away from it as you, further away probably than most of you. As Catholics we must not neglect the aid of the Communion of Saints, on earth, in purgatory, and in heaven, for we are called to bear one another’s burdens (e.g., Gal. 6:2), and how wonderful such brotherly and sisterly aid can be. We should also frequent the Eucharist, the source and summit of our lives (Lumen Gentium no. 11), precisely because the Eucharist is Jesus’ gift of Self, of His very life, and Jesus is the center of our lives. We will invariably fall down, again and again. Thanks be to God for the Sacraments, including Confession! What lavish gifts the Lord has provided for us! He has given us all the means to grow in holiness. Let us then strive to become Saints. For those of us called to a secular vocation as described by St. Francis de Sales, let us become Saints in the midst of the world. We can do it with God’s grace. Put simply, we must follow Jesus, walking by faith every day.

  1. St. Francis de Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life, trans. with an introduction and notes by John K. Ryan (New York: Doubleday, 1989), 33-34. []

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