A lovely illustration of the saints (notice their
expressions of cheerfulness)
St. Francis de Sales said it best when he remarked that, "A sad saint would be a sorry saint." For years, many biographers of the saints have done them (and us!) a great disservice by painting them in sad and subdued colors, so that their personalities turn pallid. Some of the saints never managed to easily fit into that mold (think of the curmudgeonly St. Jerome, the rather bossy St. Catherine of Siena, and the playful St. Philip Neri), but many others became "homogenized" by their well-meaning biographers. The portrait of the perfect saint was someone very quiet, very polite, very pious, very withdrawn, very humorless, and very bland. And, we must admit, this portrait does not offer a very impelling and very attractive model of holiness. The saints are meant to attract us and to inspire us to follow Christ, not to bore us, or think that we could never be "worthy enough" to follow in their footsteps.
When I think of the saints, I see that "broad and joyous garden" which St. Catherine of Siena speaks of, full of different varieties of delightful flowers, no two alike. I think of the joy of the martyrs, of St. Lawrence the Deacon, burning on the fiery grill, asking his executioners to "turn me over me, I think I'm done on this side." I think of our joyful Father, St. Dominic, scurrying about the choir, admonishing his friars to "Sing strongly, brothers!" I think of St. Therese of Lisieux, who was always putting on skits and dramas for her community. She was also quite a mimic, so much so that one sister lamented her absence at recreation with, "Little Therese is not here. There will be no laughter tonight."
Although Frank Sheed's collection of saints' biographies, SAINTS ARE NOT SAD (Sheed & Ward, 1949) features a winning title, I wish his brief introduction were not so brief, and that he would have explored this tendency to "sanitize" the saints at more length. Sheed reminds us that "Saints are intensely themselves," something we Dominicans would most heartily agree with! And, that is because we are blessed in following the theological maxim that grace perfects and builds on nature. Our growth in virtue does not destroy or smother our individual personality and character, with our God-given talents and gifts but, rather, perfects them, making us "whole," and, yes, HOLY! The universal call to holiness is just that, "universal," for ALL of us, not just for "holy people," like priests and nuns. We are ALL "Saints-In-the-Making," called to be who the Lord wants us to be, "devoting ourselves with all our being to the glory of God and the service of our neighbor" (cf. Lumen Gentium, n. 40).
So, remember, as our chaplain, Fr. Kieran Fergus, put it so aptly at Mass this morning. "As we celebrate the saints today, we hope that some day this will be our feast day!" Through the intercession of our holy brothers and sisters (known to us and known to God alone), may we join the "great crowd" of witnesses in heaven one day, forever singing the Lord's praises. Amen!
(P.S. Why not celebrate the feast today by sharing with us your favorite saint stories? We're all ears, or is that, all eyes?!")
Two of the "saints" who appeared at our Halloween
party last night. Their identities remain shrouded in
mystery though one sister thought they might be the
saintly twins, Cosmas and Damian! On hearing that,
one sister responded with, "If people in heaven look like THAT, I don't want to go there!"