Rossini: God calls everyone to be saints
Did you know that God calls you to holiness? God made everyone to be a saint. Every one of us, with all our sins and weaknesses, is called to intimate union with God.
The early Christians called all followers of Christ “saints.” When Baptism meant possible martyrdom, people had to take their faith seriously. Even so, not everyone did. Heretics, schismatics and sinners were plentiful. Gradually “saint” came to mean those who were living the Christian life with abandon, and finally those the church infallibly declared were in heaven.
Throughout the Middle Ages, priests and religious were expected to be holy. God had called them in a special way. Lay people, on the other hand, had businesses to care for and families to raise. They followed the teachings of the church and tried not to commit mortal sin. Few expected more of them than this.
God sent saints to reteach us that holiness is for everyone. In the 16th century, St. John of the Cross wrote that union with God is not a matter of visions and revelations, but of surrender to love. A few decades later, St. Francis de Sales called lay people to be holy in accordance with their state in life. In the 19th century, St. Therese of Lisieux taught that God requires trust, not great deeds.
Vatican II made the doctrine of the universal call to holiness official: “Fortified by so many and such powerful means of salvation, all the faithful, whatever their condition or state, are called by the Lord, each in his own way, to that perfect holiness whereby the Father Himself is perfect” (“Lumen Gentium,” no. 11).
If God made us for union with himself and died on the Cross to make this union possible, everyone who follows Jesus should reach that goal. Still, we think God calls others to the heights, not us. We might excuse our sins by saying, “I’m no saint.”
St. Teresa of Avila wrote, “O Lord! All our trouble comes to us from not having our eyes fixed upon Thee … We cry out at once: ‘Well, I’m no saint’; I used to say that myself. God deliver us, sisters, from saying ‘We are not angels’, or ‘We are not saints’, whenever we commit some imperfection. We may not be; but what a good thing it is for us to reflect that we can be if we will only try and if God gives us His hand! Do not be afraid that He will fail to do His part if we do not fail to do ours” (“Way of Perfection,” Ch. 16, emphasis mine).
Teresa of Avila was not always holy. She sinned, made mistakes and sometimes forgot her purpose in life. Just like us.
The idea that saints are born holy lingers on. We think that it was easy for saints to be good, because they had extraordinary graces. We gloss over their struggles. We view them as different, special.
Some saints did have extraordinary graces. But extraordinary grace is not necessary for holiness – only ordinary grace. The kind of grace we receive through the sacraments. The kind that increases when we spend time in prayer, resist temptation and make even small sacrifices out of love.
St. Paul wrote, “And I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil 1:6). God began the work of grace in us. He is willing and able to complete it. All he asks is our cooperation. In cooperating with God, we become saints.
Connie Rossini is a member of St. Peter Parish in Omaha. She is co-author of “The Contemplative Rosary” released by EWTN Publishing and author of four other books on Catholic spirituality.