There are some who view saintliness as a quality reserved for a special few, a privilege beyond the reach of ordinary persons. During his general audience yesterday, Pope Benedict rejected this idea, calling saintliness “the universal vocation of those who are baptized.” The lesson of the saints, he said is that “holiness is not a luxury,” but rather “the common destiny” of all who are called to be children of God.
In his talk, the Pope talked about the importance of studying the lives of the saints. This is something that seems to have fallen out of favor with many Catholics. Having received a Catholic school education in the 1960s, we were steeped in stories of the lives of the saints. When I taught seventh grade religious instruction several years ago, however, I was staggered by how few saints my students had even the barest familiarity with.
For me, there are any number of saints who are a source of tremendous inspiration. And a significant part of what is so inspiring is the realization that so many of those we call saints were quite ordinary human beings, beings as flawed as the rest of us. (For a fun read, pick up a copy of Saints Behaving Badly, by Thomas Craughwell, subtitled: The Cutthroats, Crooks, Trollops, Con Men, and Devil Worhippers Who Became Saints.) But through the grace of God – our God who so often writes straight with crooked lines – they were able to do tremendous things.
So studying the saints can be quite a source of hope. But it also take away any excuse we might otherwise have to avoid what Pope Benedict terms a “universal call.” No one gets to say, I’m not cut out to be a saint…I’m not special enough. Saintliness, holiness, is our “common destiny.”