The Saints were what we are now

“The Saints were what we are now.”
St. Francis de Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life, Part 5, Chapter 12

This week's reflection is written by
V. Rev. Lewis S. Fiorelli, OSFS.

This week we celebrate the Feast of All Saints, one of the most beautiful feasts of the entire Church year. The early Church called all believers, “saints.” And the Second Vatican Council reminded us that the call to “holiness” is a universal one: we are all called to become saints. But how do we actually become saints? That is the question that I would like to look at in this reflection.

For the answer, I turn to St. Francis de Sales who, early in his celebrated Introduction to the Devout Life, strongly affirms the universal call to holiness. Later in that same book he reminds us of this very important fact: all the saints, he writes, “were at one time what we are now.” This means that they were husbands and wives; parents and children; teens, single people and widows; they were housewives and CEO’s; they served in the military or farmed or worked in an office. Liked us, they worked hard to earn a living for their families; they loved deeply and showed that love in everyday ways; they were kind and caring towards others, even strangers, and especially the poor and the marginalized; they readily forgave hurts and slights, and were willing to begin each day afresh. Like all of us, they too suffered the diminishments of age and health with patience and grace. Like us, they confessed their sins, sought the grace of the sacraments and throughout the course of their lives tried as best as they could to develop and deepen their loving friendship with God in prayer, sacrament and the practice of Christian virtues.

In short, in all ways the saints “were once what we are now.” And now they are saints in glory. From their place in heaven, they urge us to persevere to the finish line, to keep our eyes focused on Christ, and to hear and heed their example as well as the voices of the angels.

In another of his writings, Francis de Sales describes the saints in this way: 
“What else is the life of a saint than the gospel that is put into practice?” He continues, “There is no more difference between the written gospel and the lives of saints than between music that is set down in notes and music that is sung or played!”

This is a very important insight. Even if we were to lose all of our four Gospels, we would still be able to reproduce them by studying the lives of the saints. For example, we would recover the poverty and simplicity of Jesus in the life St. Francis of Assisi. We would understand the gospel teaching on the love and service of the poor in the example of St. Theresa of Calcutta and in her tender care for the poorest of the poor. We would appreciate the zeal of Jesus for sinners in the life and ministry of St. Ignatius of Loyola. We could recover the burning love of the heart of Jesus in the life and teaching of St. Margaret Mary. Closer to home, we would see Jesus’s self-sacrificing love for others in the countless sacrifices of parents for their children. We saw an example of that in the recent canonization of Louis and Zelie Martin, parents of the Little Flower. The examples could be multiplied a thousand-fold but they would all say the same thing: The lives of the saints are simply the gospel of Jesus that is lived and practiced by ordinary people in everyday situations of life!

Thus, on the yearly feast of All Saints we are reminded that the secret of Christian holiness is simply to live out the spirit of the Gospel in the nooks and crannies of our daily lives with one another. Yes, the saints were once what we are now. So if we imitate their example in our own lives now, we will one day become what they have become: saints!

One day the feast of All Saints will not only be a feast that we celebrate in hope. For one day we believe that if we live as they lived, we will be among the saints who are celebrated on this feast: for all are called to holiness!