For a while now, my three year old son has been telling us that when he grows up he wants to be a superhero. Recently, my five year old daughter asked me if superheroes are real. We spoke a little about how the Saints are the real superheroes. After that conversation it struck me how true that is: the Saints are the real superheroes.
Many of the superheroes we know and love from comic books, movies, and t.v., are people like Batman or Superman, who, most of the time, live ordinary lives without performing the superhero actions their hidden life selves are known for. They tend to dress, work, and speak as would anyone else in their specific state in life, in their line of work, in their economic status, etc. Unbeknownst to their neighbors and friends, they possess superhero abilities.
Many of the Saints that have been canonized lived extraordinary lives, and, indeed, through special graces of God, were able to perform miracles. St. Padre Pio is a great example. He had the wounds of Christ mystically appear on his body, which caused him tremendous sufferings. He was given the gift of clairvoyance, was able to bi-locate, and many received many other miraculous and extraordinary graces. These gifts were at the service of the Church. Padre Pio’s sufferings were at the service of the Church and the world, for which he offered them. His gift of clairvoyance was at the service of souls, as he was able to help people in the confessional.
Although very real, these extraordinary gifts and miracles are not the norm for most people, and yet all are called to be saints. Unfortunately, in my experience, Catholic theologians nowadays often misunderstand the Second Vatican Council’s comments in Lumen Gentium concerning the “universal call to holiness.” They somehow manage to miss the implication of human depravity (albeit not total, 100%), and seem to mistake the “call” as a declaration of the present state of things. Thus, as opposed to recognizing the very real implied declaration of widespread depravity and very real universal call to holiness, they seem to think this really means a declaration of universal holiness (that we’re all really holy already, and whatever we do is holy), and thus a universal call to depravity (since so much of what has traditionally been deemed depraved is now to be understood [allegedly] as holy). This has it backwards. We all really are called to holiness, to the perfection of charity. But this is impossible without God. With God, however, it is possible.
Most saints are not canonized, and we will only find out their identities in heaven. The canon of Saints is there, not only for us to rely on their intercession, but also as very real diverse models for how God worked in their lives. Most of us will never experience the extraordinary and very tangible supernatural events that St. Padre Pio experienced, even if we achieve great sanctity in this life. But God calls us all to strive for the perfection of charity. In order to do this, we need to follow the advice of Saints, like St. Therese Lisieux, one of my favorites, and that is to do ordinary things with extraordinary love. We need to live heroic love in the little things of each day. By consistently living charity in all of the many things of ordinary everyday life, we can, with the grace of God, grow in sanctity. But we cannot do this without God. God is the real Saint-maker. He is the one who turns ordinary women and men into the superheroes of the real world.