On the Way to Sainthood

Do you ever feel like All Saints’ Day is the unattainable celebrity version of All Souls’ Day? Perhaps you find yourself thinking my faith will never be that strong. My […]

Do you ever feel like All Saints’ Day is the unattainable celebrity version of All Souls’ Day? Perhaps you find yourself thinking my faith will never be that strong. My life could never be that exemplary. My works will never have such an impact.

Let’s take St. Augustine of Hippo as an example. His absolute conversion from debauchery to devotion speaks of deep faith and love. (How deep must his faith and love been to undertake such a total, trusting conversion? I can’t even begin to imagine.) Meanwhile, the profundity of Augustine’s writing speaks not only of a desire to understand his Creator but also of an immense talent. (Ha! I’ll be doing good to finish writing this not-even- 1,000-word reflection.)

And then there’s St. Hildegard of Bingen. It seems there was literally nothing this woman couldn’t do, from composing music to practicing medicine to founding convents to hearing the voice of God. (I’m getting a bit tired just thinking about Hildegard’s accomplishments. And if I heard the voice of God, I would surely be too frightened to listen, let alone understand and share with the world, as Hildegard did.)

And what about St. Patrick of Ireland? While I’m sure he didn’t literally drive all the snakes out of Ireland, he obviously did some pretty amazing things to inspire that legend. And the whole shamrock theology thing was brilliant! (I sometimes have trouble giving someone coherent directions to the grocery store, for Heaven’s sake.)

Or perhaps we can ponder the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Talk about a hard act to follow: Mother of God, Queen of the Universe, born without original sin, and did I mention that she is the Mother of God? (Ouch! I’m too ordinary to shine with even a tiny fraction of this woman’s greatness.)

No wonder we need two separate feasts for the Saints and the Souls: what lowly soul can ever aspire to be as great as a saint?

This year, I approached yet another All Saints/All Souls season full of pessimistic doubt about the potential for greatness within any given soul. And then, of all the strange things that could possibly make me change my mind about the saint-potential of an ordinary soul, I heard about Angela Lansbury’s death earlier this month. That’s right: Angela Lansbury’s death—may she rest in peace—caused me to reconsider the seemingly remote possibility of any given soul in its human lowliness becoming a saint.

Angela Lansbury’s death made the news precisely because she was a celebrity. Over the impressive span of an eight-decade career, Angela Lansbury sang, danced, and acted her way to a seemingly unattainable level of fame. Yet I remember her for something much more ordinarily attainable than her starring roles on film, stage, and television. I remember her for her plain-old ordinary compassion.

Rumor has it that Lansbury frequently used her status as the star—and eventually executive producer—of the long-running TV series Murder, She Wrote to help fellow actors from Hollywood’s Golden Age maintain benefits through the Screen Actors Guild. By offering roles on Murder, She Wrote to actors who hadn’t been cast in years, Lansbury ensured that her colleagues maintained the work and income requirements needed to collect much-needed pension and insurance benefits. Lansbury’s hiring practices were the humble, quiets acts of an ordinary human soul, but they had the effect—at least for those veteran actors who needed a hand in retirement—of a great, almost unattainable saintly deed.

If a celebrity of the secular sort does ordinary, attainable things, what about celebrities of the spiritual sort? I began reconsidering the lives of the saints whose acts had always seemed so unattainable.

Let’s take St. Augustine of Hippo as an example. While St. Augustine wasn’t wowing the world with the depth and brilliance of his writing or the profundity of his conversion, he was likely to be encouraging others—both through word and the simplicity of his lifestyle—to care for the poor. That’s doable.

And then there’s St. Hildegard of Bingen. When confronted with the erudition of Hildegard’s works, it’s easy to forget that she couldn’t read. Illiteracy and struggles to comprehend or produce the written word are pretty ordinary. Most of us have struggled, often mightily, with reading and writing at some point. I can relate to that.

And what about St. Patrick of Ireland? His modern-day admirers often forget (or maybe never knew) that he was once a slave who tended his owner’s sheep. Things don’t get much more ordinary, unimpressive, and humble than that.

Or perhaps we can ponder the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Although she was the Divinely sinless Mother of God, she did utterly ordinary things like panic when her child went missing in a big city or attend a wedding and nudge her Son to help in the way that only He could when the embarrassed newlyweds ran out of wine.

Maybe it isn’t so far-fetched, after all, to think that an ordinary soul could aspire to sainthood. Maybe the strong probability of an ordinary soul becoming a saint is precisely why we have two feasts, and back-to-back, no less. Maybe we need the reminder that each of us can become a saint in ordinary or even grand ways; we’re just not there yet.

-Lori Randall

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