Being a Saint Takes Chutzpah, Moxie and Grit

When you’re a sheep among wolves, there’s no excuse for being lukewarm

Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, “Joan of Arc at the Coronation of Charles VII”, 1854
Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, “Joan of Arc at the Coronation of Charles VII”, 1854 (photo: Public Domain)

I’m probably going to get pilloried for this one but I could do with fresh air and sunshine.

Has everyone else noticed that male Catholic saints are always gentle and kind and they love kids and puppies? They bring peace and love wherever they go and everyone loves them!

Our female saints, on the other hand, are spitfires and dynamos. They’re kittens with whips. A cross between dynamite and a laser beam―guaranteed to blow your mind. They've got a tough job and nothing’s going to stop them. Even getting the job done doesn’t stop them. Right around the corner they’ve got another 500 kids waiting to be fed, bathed, clothed, baptized and catechized. Even the angels must gasp at their accomplishments and their energy and yes… their moxie.

If you don’t believe me, read St. Teresa of Ávila’s The Interior Castle. That’s one tough lady [saint]. She faced down bishops and spiritual advisers who couldn’t tell a saint from a hole in the ground. And yet she persevered and is now a Doctor of the Church.

St. Olga of Kiev. That’s a name that should strike terror in the hearts of non-Christians. A very tough cookie. Those tough, no-nonsense religious sisters we had in elementary school couldn't hand towels to St. Olga. You might disapprove of some of her tactics but I’m just grateful she’s on our side. I’d hate to have to meet her in a fight in dark alley in the Ukraine — unless, of course, she had come to rescue me from a fight in a dark alley in the Ukraine.

But these aren’t the only formidable female saints in the Church. It’s a little hard to not stand in awe of St. Joan of Arc for her bravery in leading French troops against the English invaders.

St. Katherine Tekakwitha withstood starvation, ostracism from her own tribe and constant threats to her life for no other reason than her love of her Redeemer.

St. Giulia of Corsica, while being tortured and crucified by Roman pagans, refused to apostatize herself. Instead she issued these immortal words: “My liberty is the service of Christ, Whom I serve every day with a pure mind. As for that error of yours, I not only do not venerate it, I detest it."

That’s a gal after my own heart! If I get to Heaven, I want to make sure I shake her hand… if she’d let me.

St. Catherine of Alexandria, another martyr, threatened with being broken upon a wheel, touched the instrument of her torture shattering it armed with nothing more than her faith in Christ. Tough.

St. Mary McKillop is one of the very few saints to ever have been excommunicated. Admittedly, it was because she was defending children against sexual and physical abuse. However, that’s one tough nun to bounce back from that one.

Maria Goretti’s story is an unpleasant one but consider her firmness of faith to forgive the man who violated and murdered her proving to the world that there are indeed Christians who live and die for love.

Servant of God Dorothy Day is another Iron Lady. Repentant after an immodest life and having killed her own child as result of an abortion, she embraced Christ and His Holy Church dedicating herself to helping the poor that we, mere, insensitive mortals, pass by on the streets every day.

And least we forget, the Blessed Virgin Mary is the toughest of them all. It is to her that even Christ bowed and deferred. The angels genuflect to their Queen and demons flee in abject terror. After all, she’s a Jewish mother... what did you expect? (For scale, that's about as tough as an Italian mother or an Irish grandmother, roughly.)

The list goes on and on. Tough women made holy or perhaps being holy, women become tough. So, if you’ve still got issues about how “mean” the religious sisters were on you when you were in high school, wipe away your tears, babydoll. They probably saved you from a worse fate than merely having to wash the rouge off your face in the girl’s bathroom. And, to be frank, Sister was right: it made you like a tart. (No! Sister Gregory! It’s not makeup! I’m merely blushing!”)

Of course, these are only generalizations. We have more than enough male saints who were tough as titanium also. They didn't call St. Anthony of Padua "The Hammer of the Heretics" because he was a pushover when dealing with those who bashed the Catholic Church. He was tough and didn’t put up with nonsense.

St. Francis of Assisi stared down armed Saracens and welcomed any of their imams to walk hand-in-hand with him into a blazing fire to prove which religion was the correct one. He had more than sufficient chutzpah.

St. Lawrence of Rome laughed in the face of death. Literally.

St. Ignatius of Loyola was a man on a mission and didn’t care that he looked ridiculous sitting in a cramped desk with little kids learning Latin. He wasn’t one to cross.

Don Bosco survived four assassination attempts by Protestants. But, after all, he was Italian so it’s not that extraordinary. (I had six last week, alone!)

In 1617, at the age of 32, Bl. Peter Kasui Kibe, a Japanese martyr, walked all the way from Japan to Rome in order to beg the pope to ordain him. Desserts, storms, hunger, violent Muslim jihadists, wild animals, nearly impassable mountain ranges and rivers were nothing to Peter. Once a priest, he set out for Japan and was immediately captured by the pagan authorities. He was subjected to the cruelest tortures devised by the peaceful Buddhists of Japan. His tormentor asked Peter why he simply didn’t give in. The saint replied, "You cannot understand this―therefore, it is no use guiding you."

St. Francis de Sales is nicknamed “The Gentleman Saint,” even by his erstwhile detractors―the Swiss Calvinists who converted to Catholicism. He was not only a holy man but also a gentle one. He wholeheartedly disagreed with this assessment and kept referring to himself as angry and rude in his diaries. We can dismiss his self-characterizations as a sign of his humility as they had no bearing in social reality. It must take gumption to put up with a full onslaught of one’s close-minded and dark-hearted enemies. But, in Christ, all things are possible. (Matthew 19:23-30, Philippians 4:13)

In the Catholic Church it's just as hard to be a man as it is to be a woman. We both set the standards for forbearance, forgiveness and fortitude. Being compassionate doesn’t mean being a wimp and they don’t call it “spiritual warfare” because it’s a breeze. So, let’s give the gals a break, shall we? No one promised you a rose garden and being Catholic is tough work. No one should pick a fight but no one should retreat from one either.

To be a Christian means to strive to be a saint and there are no easy paths for the barely committed. Jesus isn’t interested in lackadaisical, wishy-washy, on-again/off-again Christians. He wants the tough ones. He even warns us against being wimpy:

I know what you have done; I know that you are neither cold nor hot. How I wish you were either one or the other! But because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I am going to spit you out of My mouth! (Revelation 3:15-16)

Why are our women tough? Because, sometimes, just sometimes, you need to send in the Marines. And if you need to send them, look for the ones the other Marines are afraid of. Christian women need to be tough because they need to love. Christian men need to do the same. There’s no excuse for being lukewarm, for Christ sends us out just like sheep to a pack of wolves. We must be more cautious than snakes and gentler than doves. (Matthew 10:16)