We don’t have to go very far to recognize that there are abundant crises in our world today. We find crises of various proportions in every corner of the globe and in virtually all sectors of society. Check the news online, read the various blogs, twitter feeds, social media, or turn on the radio or TV, and you are guaranteed to be inundated with crises of every sort: crises in the world, crises in the Church, crises in the culture. We don’t even have to turn to news outlets to discover contemporary crises, we find them in the families around us, and in our own families.
In number 301 of his popular collection of points for meditation, The Way, St. Josemaría Escrivá wrote that, “these world crises are crises of saints.” This is a message that is rarely heard nowadays, but is ever so important to underscore. One most important answer to the crises we find around us, is for us seriously to strive to become a saint. Indeed, this was one of the most important points Catholic philosopher Peter Kreeft made when he gave his now famous presentation at Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2011, as part of their Distinguished Speakers Series. Kreeft’s talk was entitled, “How to Win the Culture War,” and although quite a lot has changed since he made that presentation, his words are even more relevant now than when he first spoke them.
We don’t take these words seriously because we don’t really believe that we can become saints. This is understandable, since on our own of course this is impossible. We know we’re not on our own, and yet we don’t seem to be any closer to becoming saints. The fact of the matter is that God has specifically called us to this divine vocation to sanctity, to holiness, to the perfection of charity. We find this not only in the fifth chapter of the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, but already in the teachings of Jesus, “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5:48). Even before the coming of Christ, we read in the Old Testament, God’s command, “You shall be holy; for I the Lord your God am holy” (Lev 19:2).
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Reading the lives of the Saints teaches us many things, among them we learn of the immediate affect they had on the lives of those around them. We don’t have to very far in Christian history to see how this worked. All we need to do is look at the life of St. Paul and we can see the affect he had on those around him. Take the case of Priscilla and Aquila whom St. Paul met because they all shared the same trade, tentmakers. We read about them in Acts 18, and by the end, these converts are helping spread the gospel to others. In Philippians 4:22, while St. Paul writes from prison in Rome, he sends greetings to the Christians in Philippi, and writes, “All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.” Still in chains, St. Paul is evangelizing those around him, so that, members of Caesar’s household have become followers of Christ; their lives have been irrevocably changed.
We underestimate the wide-ranging affects a single soul committed to God can have on the environment around her. Even more tragically, we underestimate, or we don’t really believe, God’s desire and ability to turn us into saints, canonizable saints, regardless of our state or situation in life. Although sin may be an obstacle to sanctity, and there’s a remedy for that, our occupations, celibate or married state in life, geographical location, health (or lack thereof), wealth (or lack thereof), intellectual capabilities, are not obstacles to sanctity but can become the very means of growth in holiness.
Turning back to the initial point from St. Josemaría, he continues, “God wants a handful of men ‘of his own’ in every human activity.” If we would take God’s call seriously to grow in holiness, in the very concrete situations in which we find ourselves on a daily basis—in family life, at work, in our neighborhood and community—we would see a transformation begin to take place around us, beginning with our own relationship with God, with spouse, with children, with friends, with co-workers, with neighbors. Just imagine the effect of Christians in all walks of life—homemakers, mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, lawyers, judges, university professors, police officers, news broadcasters, engineers, physicians, insurance agents, real estate agents, school teachers, cooks, building cleaners, construction workers and other manual laborers, those in the pharmaceutical industry, those who work on Wall Street, internet security workers, people in government agencies, etc.—committing themselves to become saints.
Such individuals do exist, and in all of those fields, and in many more; would that their number would increase. Our Lord said, “pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matt 9:38). This Christian revolution has to begin with you and with me. If we take Jesus seriously, then we will see resolutions emerge to some of the crises around us, as God sends new saints to change the world.
Editor’s note: The image above is a detail of “The forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs” painted by Fra Angelico around 1423-24.