All Saints Day, a solemn feast of the Church, is practically as old as the saints themselves. Its roots reach to the fourth century, when the Church began celebrating a common day for all martyrs. In the eighth and ninth centuries, Popes Gregory III and Gregory IV set the celebration for Nov. 1 and extended it to commemorate not just the martyred, but also all persons, known and unknown, whose sanctity in this life assured them a place in heaven for all eternity.
Members of the “Church Militant” — that would be us — can thus be assured that the “Church Triumphant” is praying for our salvation with the power of the full beatific vision before them.
Maybe even more important, their feast reminds us of the Church’s unmistakable nudge to our consciences: If those everyday folks could do it, so can we. “‘All Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of charity,’ the Catechism reminds us (No. 2013). “All are called to holiness …”
“When we think of saints, we tend to think of the greatest ones — martyrs, mystics, founders of religious orders,” says author Thomas Craughwell. “Few of us are going to do what they did. But heaven is crowded with saints we do not know, ordinary people who became saints.” Craughwell’s books include Saints Behaving Badly: The Cutthroats, Crooks, Trollops, Con Men, and Devil-Worshippers Who Became Saints (Doubleday, 2006) and This Saint’s for You!: 300 Heavenly Allies Who Will Change Your Life (Quirk Books, 2007); he’s also online at TomCraughwell.com. He points to the heroic holiness of unknowns such as St. Zita, a 13th-century housekeeper — and to the often-overlooked humanity of the most celebrated.
St. Joseph, for example, is one of the most important figures in salvation history. Yet, Craughwell points out, “He’s not a martyr or a mystic. He doesn’t say a single word in the Gospels, and he performs no miracles. He’s a family man, a working man — but he’s completely faithful in obeying the will of God.”
Easier said than done? Sure. But absolutely doable, as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta daily reminded us by her words and her actions. Catholic writer and speaker Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle, who knew Mother Teresa as a friend, says she often quotes a slice of simple wisdom that the saintly nun frequently repeated: “Holiness is not the luxury of a few. It is everyone’s duty: yours and mine.”
Cooper O’Boyle, author of two new books on Catholic mothering and homemaking (both published by the Register’s sister company Circle Press; see CirclePress.org and DonnaCooperOboyle.com), stresses that she strives to live Blessed Teresa’s message not only in her work, but also in her vocation as a wife and mother.
How can we, too, follow the path to sainthood? The theological experts see eye-to-eye as to the basic roadmap all must follow. “A serious daily spiritual life is necessary,” says Father James Farfaglia, pastor of St. Helena of the True Cross of Jesus Catholic Church in Corpus Christi, Texas. The particulars may differ somewhat according to circumstances, he points out, but there are constants.
“I recommend to people to develop that spiritual life in daily Mass. I call it the fast way to get to heaven,” says Father Farfaglia, who maintains a website ministry at FJIcthus.com.
Cooper O’Boyle says if circumstances prevent attendance at daily Mass, most people can find a place and time for Eucharistic visits — “even if only for 10 minutes between errands. Bring the children. Ask Jesus for his graces and love.”
If you’re a mom with small children, God may want you to stay within the walls of your domestic church for a time, adds Cooper O’Boyle. Soon enough, the kids will be grown enough to kneel alongside you before the Blessed Sacrament, just as they sit for Sunday Mass (even if only in the cry room).
Father Farfaglia well remembers one home-schooling mother who explained her solution while receiving spiritual direction from him. Looking out her kitchen window, she could see her parish church. At daily Mass time she would look toward the house of God and make a spiritual communion.
Of course, we can’t expect to make much progress toward sainthood if we don’t regularly clean our souls’ slates of sin. “Aside from daily Mass, one our greatest weapons for spiritual progress is regular use of the sacrament of confession,” counsels Father Farfaglia. “The sacrament is going to help us achieve great spiritual progress.”
“Confession isn’t just for mortal sin,” he says. “It’s also a big help for growing and gaining the graces we need to avoid spiritual tepidness. It can help us not fall into moral sin in the future. By eradicating as much sin as we can, we keep progressing.”
Next, pray. Talking with God in the morning, at night, and at least once in between — such as with a rosary, whether alone or with others — will transform your life, says the priest.
Take a lesson from a saint for turning daily activities into constant prayer, advises Craughwell. “One of the best things is to focus on the ‘Little Way’ of the Little Flower, St. Thérèse of Lisieux,” he says.
How does that work? It’s amazingly simple, says Craughwell. “Anything you do, tell God you’re doing it for love of him,” he explains. “Every activity in the course of the day becomes a type of active prayer.”
Surrender to God’s holy will, adds Cooper O’Boyle. “In and throughout your everyday tasks and duties in the home or at work — all these little things become huge in God’s eyes,” she says. “We work on our sanctification and holiness right in the nitty-gritty of our lives.”
Craughwell recalls a friend from graduate school who spent his days in academia alternating between two states: drunk and hung over. Then he submitted to a conversion experience. He gave up booze, went to confession, attended Mass, prayed and read Catholic books. The man remains a beacon of Catholic living to this day.
“I don’t know if his faith is ever going to show up on a holy card or if they’ll name parish churches after him,” says Craughwell, “but it’s the most dramatic conversion I’ve seen.”
At the very least, he — and we — can joyfully hope in, and work on, our chances of joining the ranks of those celebrated each Nov. 1.
Staff writer Joseph Pronechen
is based in Trumbull, Connecticut.