SAINTS: A CLOSER LOOK
by Thomas Dubay, S.M.
Servant Books, 2007
170 pages, $12.99
To order: catalog.americancatholic.org
If you take away nothing else from this quick read, you should understand one thing: Saints aren’t freaks.
Marist Father Thomas Dubay is a retreat director and widely-published writer on spirituality. You might expect such a person to have lofty, perhaps impractical, religious views. He doesn’t.
Instead, he emphasizes a point the great hagiographer Henri Gheon made over 50 years ago: “Grace does not destroy nature; it fertilizes and elevates nature. No sort of man is more sensible than a saint.”
I suspect we’ve all met the type of person who is so “holy” that he’s a nuisance. He’s often the guy who doesn’t pay his bills, who can’t be counted on to show up at the food pantry for his shift, who zones out during a conversation.
That person, Father Dubay makes clear, isn’t a saint and probably isn’t even on the right road. Saints, he assures us, are practical.
The book itself is practical. If you don’t have time to read 150 short pages of text, you can skip to Chapter Three, where the author lays out the 13 “Basic Attitudes” of the saints, ranging from “balanced” to “joyously enthusiastic” to “on fire.” It’s a good overview that can be absorbed in 10 minutes.
But there’s much more to the book. Father Dubay doesn’t stop with the saints’ practicality. He doesn’t even start with it. Instead, he starts with the observation that saints are “moral miracles” with two sides of holiness: heroic virtue and transforming intimacy with God. All saintly traits emanate from this two-sided holiness.
“The saints,” he writes, “are men and women who say a complete Yes to [the call of perfect holiness], not merely in prayerful sentiments but also in daily decisions and actions.”
This call to perfect holiness has many traits, and Father Dubay sketches them all. Some are obvious: Saints pray a lot; saints have no false idols; saints love the Church. Many less obvious: Saints don’t procrastinate; saints welcome admonishment; saints have perfect perspective (“seeing big things as big, small things as small”).
A few of the same points get repeated, but for the most part, the book is pithy and full of different angles. And toward the end, Father Dubay seems to summarize the book with this simple phrase: “Saints have the habit of saying Yes, sinners the habit of saying No.”
It’s a simple observation that probably makes most of us uneasy. What is our reaction when someone disrupts our day, even in a small way? It’s often harsh, at least internally, if not externally. Why does every experienced volunteer organizer try to contact potential volunteers months ahead of the scheduled event? Because most people, when faced with an imminent commitment, will say “No.”
Many of us see such faults as minor things, but Father Dubay shows that they’re major. All morality is interconnected: “Since each virtue is an aspect of human goodness, all of them are necessary for completeness. ‘Be perfect,’ Jesus said.”
If we’re inclined to say No, even in small things, we’re probably like the lofty person who can’t be counted on to show up for his shift at the food pantry: We’re not saints, and we’re probably not even on the right road. The best feature of Father Dubay’s book is that it helps us see what the right road looks like.
Eric Scheske is based
in Sturgis, Michigan.