As we celebrate the Feasts of All Saints and All Souls Day, I was reminded of a story I heard several years ago. When one of Mother Teresa’s nuns asked what she must do to become a saint, with her characteristic wit, the saint replied, “All you have to do is die. This pope [Pope St. John Paul II] canonizes everyone.”
Whether or not the story is true, it’s worth noting that Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis have all been referred to as “Saint Makers.” The reason for the flurry of canonizations can be traced to the Second Vatican Council, based on Jesus’ mandate, “Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48).
The Vatican II document “Lumen Gentium” devoted an entire chapter to the universal call to holiness, negating the notion that sainthood was a privileged state reserved primarily for clergy and religious.
The council fathers affirmed, “The call to holiness is not limited to any one state in life, but is universal, and embracing all baptized Christians. It consists in the perfection of that type of love called charity or agape” (“Lumen Gentium” 5:13-14).
Perfection in the Christian sense does not mean that we must accomplish every task perfectly, but that all we do is guided by love for God and neighbor. As we look at the lives of the saints, we see imperfect people who desired to love God with all their heart, and it was that love that guided their choices in life.
Holiness is about recognizing that we belong to God. Such profound awareness doesn’t happen all at once, which is why we refer to faith as a journey. We look to the saints for inspiration. Their lives serve as roadmaps, but they are not blueprints because there are no carbon copies among the Communion of Saints.
Every person is called in a unique way according to the times, culture and situation in which they live. Not all are called to be martyrs, prophets or founders of religious communities.
Saints like Louis and Zelie Martin, parents of St. Therese of Lisieux, are a good example. Zelie, wife and mother of five daughters was a lace maker who died of breast cancer in the prime of life. Louis struggled with depression much of his life and died in an institution. They dealt with some of the same issues that we deal with today, yet they became saints.
On Oct. 4, Pope Francis beatified 15-yearold Italian Carlos Acutis who was a computer programmer. He enjoyed playing Pokemon and Super Mario, but it was his love for the Eucharist, the poor and the souls in purgatory that led to promoting his cause for sainthood.
Carlos donated money to beggars, volunteered in a soup kitchen and spent time praying before the Blessed Sacrament. None of these works are extraordinary in themselves. I dare say many Catholics have done similar things, but for Carlos, they were more than occasional acts of charity and devotion; they became a way of life that defined who he was.
Carlos’ love for the poor souls in purgatory suggests that he had a deep understanding and appreciation of the Communion of Saints that extends beyond the suffering poor in this life. Diagnosed with leukemia as a teenager, he told friends and family that he would offer all his sufferings for the pope, the Church and for the souls in purgatory. His example is one that we can all emulate with the help of God’s grace.
As we reflect on our own faith journey, it’s equally important to ask ourselves what is keeping us from becoming the person God is calling us to become. Rather than praying for some things, sometimes it helps to pray to be rid of some things. It might be arrogance, anger, petty jealousies or the need to be recognized for the good we do. One thing is certain: to become a saint, prayer must be front and center of our life, because without the grace of God, we are helpless.
Whether we are praying for ourselves or for others, prayer connects us not only to God but to one another, which is why there is no such thing as private prayer. Whether we pray alone or within a Christian assembly, every prayer pierces the heavens and joins our voice with that of the Church triumphant, the Church suffering and the Church militant.
Prayer reminds us that we are never alone, that others have successfully traveled the journey from emotional love to agape love, and that with God’s grace so can we. More than an empty promise, prayer offers pilgrims hope for what is to come!