Everyone loves a good saint! Their stories are incredible. Their lives were radical. Their deaths are awe-inspiring. What’s more, they come in all shapes and sizes. Some, like St. Thomas Aquinas, were capable of reaching great intellectual heights. Some, like St. Thérèse of Lisieux, were simple-minded yet full of love. Some, like St. Augustine, had extreme conversions. Some, like St. Teresa of Calcutta, gave their lives in service of others. Some, like Joan of Arc, were martyred for the faith. What all saints have in common, though, is complete self-denial and love of God and of neighbor, for Christ says, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me,” (Mt 16:24) and also “This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you” (Jn 15:12-14).
Although the saints, whom we laud and revere, serve as a model and inspiration for us still here on earth, too often we create a divide between ourselves and the saints that we imagine never being able to cross. We might even think it irreverent to imagine ourselves in the same heaven as the saints, and we might whisk away thoughts of our own canonization on the basis of being too prideful or presumptuous. We might say, “That is all fine and good for St. Francis of Assisi, but he is St. Francis of Assisi! He’s a saint!”
I have noticed a similar divide when it comes to discerning a vocation. I am often commended for thinking about and studying for the priesthood—after all, the priesthood is a noble profession; a man considering priesthood has to make many sacrifices: he gives up having his own family, a career, and a certain amount of autonomy through swearing obedience to the bishop. But I have noticed that some seem to equate the priesthood with holiness to the extent that the vocation of priesthood is seen as holier than the vocation of marriage, that priesthood entails more sacrifice than marriage, that one more fully gives his life in priesthood than in marriage. We put priests on a pedestal of holiness, as if becoming a priest makes it easier to be holy, easier to sacrifice. We react with disappointment and sadness when we hear a man has left the seminary to pursue the vocation of marriage, as if somehow he has veered from the path of discipleship and holiness.
To believe that priesthood is a more sacred vocation than marriage is akin to believing that St. Peter is greater than St. Paul or that the Gospel of Luke is more important than the Gospel of Matthew. We are all called to holiness, and our vocation is the call from God that will bring us closest to him and bring us to holiness. One’s vocation is hand-picked by God in order to conduct that person most efficiently to holiness. God desired St. Joseph to be the spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary who was to give birth to His son Jesus. It would be irreverent and audacious to think St. Joseph could have chosen a more holy path than the one God had ordained for him. Nor would we think this of any other saint in heaven; the different paths the saints followed led them to holiness, and each of their paths was uniquely tailored to fit them. So why would we think this of ourselves? Why, when we are following the will of God, would we think that there is a more holy option available to us or that we are choosing the less holy option.
Let us be secure in our vocations, confident that the path to which God has called us is indeed the most safe, secure, expedient, and tailored route to holiness for us. And let us also remember the universal—that is, the Catholic—call to holiness, for we are all meant to be saints of God in heaven. Let us not be falsely humble, saying we will never be saints, who are so great and beyond us in their holiness. Let us instead be bold in our desire for holiness, not seeking to attain holiness at some vague point in the far-distant future, but seeking to attain holiness now, desiring to deny ourselves now, picking up our crosses now and every day, following after Jesus.
Tempus fugit; memento mori (Time is fleeting; remember death).
All of the saints, pray for us!
Robert Ross is a seminarian studying for the Diocese of Gary, Indiana and is a member of the Class of 2019.