The human factor can go a long way toward determining who’s included in the book
By George Valadie
Perhaps this would have been a better topic for November’s issue, but I ask you to think back to your favorite saint. The one you most admire from having read that book. You know the one: Lives of the Saints.
To be honest, I never did read all that book.
I know I should have kept reading more, but I didn’t.
I know I should still be reading more, but I don’t.
I did “google” the title recently but came up with 52 million possible entries. So I guess when I finally do decide to jump back in, picking out a good “Saints” book might prove to be a whole lot harder than it used to be when Sister kept a few copies on the shelf behind her desk.
I racked up a lot of extra credit reports from that book.
This column actually began writing itself the other day at our lunch table.
Sitting there in the cafeteria, with kids all around, we teachers typically gather to squeeze in a meal as quickly as we can while pretending we can’t hear them.
And we talk about almost anything that doesn’t involve them … weekends, Weight Watchers, the weather [mostly snow days.]
That day we broke the rule. We should never break the rule.
Apparently, as part of having written an essay about a saint of their choosing, a student had shared in class what was to her some surprising research she had unearthed about Mother Teresa.
This student’s digging had led her to discover not everyone was a fan. That instead, Mother was often criticized—by Catholics and non-Catholics alike—for such offenses as “claiming virtue in suffering rather than trying to alleviate it,” and for “offering substandard medical care.”
Some at our table chimed in with a nodding knowledge of these controversies; but me, I didn’t have a clue.
Really? Where had I been? Was this true? Was she guilty? She did talk a lot about the value of suffering.
But here we were in the month of the saints getting on my favorite.
We were simultaneously ruining my image of the woman and my lunch.
Puzzled, I knew for a fact Pope John Paul II and the Church sped up the process for her.
I was glad they did.
According to those keeping count, she had but one of two required miracles to her credit when he set the wheels in motion.
But I didn’t really care about that either. Miracles or not, they could have let her in the day she died as far as I was concerned.
Miracles aren’t the keys to a saintly life if you ask me. The stories I know are of a woman who loved God and life and people. And some of those were people whom society had deemed unlovable.
That’s enough for me.
But I turn back to you and your own personal favorite. Which saint do you admire most?
Now, tell me this: do you ever envision that person with a big old grin on their face?
Do you ever picture that holy man or woman having a good belly laugh with their best friends? One of those tears-down-your-cheeks, snorting-milk-out-your-nose, can’t-catch-your-breath kind of laughs?
Can you see them with friends gathered for dinner, telling a good joke? The life of the party? Blessed with the ability to laugh at themselves as well?
For most in that old book, I didn’t see it. I can’t. I never have.
The majority of saints I used to read about became saints after they died a terrible death. Some became saints because they actually chose to die that way.
Some were beheaded. Some were crucified. A few even burned at the stake. Or worse.
I’ve always admired them certainly but never really felt all that inclined to be like them, certainly not if that’s what awaited me.
And though it may be true and probably was, the stories I’ve read about those folks just didn’t seem to be about fun people. Another reason I put off having sainthood as a personal goal.
Of course it’s not that they weren’t lovers of joy; they very well could have been. Probably were. I know that now. But that aspect of their personalities and their lives was just never included in the condensed versions I read as a child.
And when I stopped reading, I stopped learning.
But with Mother Teresa, I had actually seen her laugh. And I’d seen others laugh because of her.
Real-life television footage exists of the woman, and not a single frame of it shows her doing anything miraculous. She was, however, seen demonstrating an unmatched, maybe even inhuman, love of mankind, at least the sort of love I’ve never been able to match. And a sense of humor.
The woman seemed normal. And that’s my kind of saint.
John Paul is a favorite, too. In his 25-year tenure, he canonized almost 500 saints, more than his predecessors of the last 500 years combined. He also beatified another 1,300-plus. Good for him.
Just like the rules he broke for her, I loved that he could see that special lives exist in not-so-special circumstances. Like him, I believe there are saints among us. I’m just sure of it.
I once read, “Saints can be hard to live with. Their message is uncomfortable; … compromise is not enough; you can go higher, you must go higher.”
I know people like that. And so do you. And though I doubt they ever make the book, they definitely make this a better place to be.
Dear God—She’s already there. Making the rest of them laugh. Making the rest of us think. Thank you for the saints among us. Amen
George Valadie is the president of Notre Dame High School in Chattanooga.