Expectations for a Lay Saint – Part XV

A soul in union with Christ would manifest gifts of the Spirit and engage in acts of charity



What’s the right “build” or “profile” for a non-martyred lay saint? It’s fair to say that we don’t live our lives aspiring to be canonized saints. But we do aspire to be saints. French novelist Léon Bloy wrote, “The only real sadness, the only real failure, the only great tragedy in life, is not to become a saint.” In our quest, we do want to live lives that are inspired by those saints who are canonized.

In evaluating the right “build” for a lay saint, first let’s consider the general expectations we would have. Then let’s consider specific categories of activities or occupations in which a layperson may be engaged.

We would expect a saintly layperson to be, to all appearances, in the state of grace at death. We would expect him or her to be a practicing Catholic: attending Sunday Mass, regular confession, baptizing and confirming his or her children, instructing his or her children in the Faith. We would expect the person to pray, and to meditate on the Bible. I’m not so sure that we would expect the person to be a daily communicant, or to pray the Rosary daily, or to recite the daily Liturgy of the Hours, or to sing in a parish choir, or to serve as a lector or extraordinary minister of Communion. With respect to service in parish liturgical functions, we should bear in mind words from John Paul II’s Christifideles Laici:

the post-conciliar [post-Vatican II] path of the lay faithful has not been without its difficulties and dangers. In particular, two temptations can be cited which they have not always known how to avoid: the temptation of being so strongly interested in Church services and tasks that some fail to become actively engaged in their responsibilities in the professional, social, cultural and political world; and the temptation of legitimizing the unwarranted separation of faith from life, that is, a separation of the Gospel’s acceptance from the actual living of the Gospel in various situations in the world. (Paragraph 2, “On the Vocation and the Mission of the Lay Faithful in the Church and in the World,” Dec. 30, 1988; boldface added)

We would expect a layperson we are considering as a candidate for canonization to have been in an intimate union with Christ. We would expect this union to have been manifest in some of the gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10). Let me add: “The love of the Lord is the end of wisdom.”

We would expect this union with Christ to have been manifest in some of the fruits of the Holy Spirit: charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, and chastity (see Gal. 5:22; and Catechism of the Catholic Church, para. 1831). We would expect to see the flowering of various virtues, from among the Theological Virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity, and the Cardinal Virtues of Justice, Prudence, Temperance, and Fortitude), as well as other virtues such as humility.

We would expect the saintly layperson to have been engaged in some of the various forms of charity: the corporal works of mercy (feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and the imprisoned, and burying the dead) and the spiritual works of mercy (counseling the doubtful, instructing the ignorant, admonishing sinners, consoling the afflicted, pardoning offenses, bearing wrongs patiently, and praying for the living and the dead).

Maybe you imagine, wrongly I think, that charity can be lived only by extroverts. Or maybe you imagine, wrongly I think, that a life of prayer can be lived only by introverts. Consider one of my devout uncles, a businessman, married with four children. He once said, as we were driving around town running errands, “My life is a prayer.” Consider, too, how author Myles Connolly had his narrator describe the fictional character Blue, in the 1918 novel Mr. Blue:  “He was audacious, merry, healthy. He had, indeed, all of those buoyant and vivid qualities I had been told were alien to religious recollection and the pious life. Perhaps my conception of the religious man was wrong. Perhaps he is the happiest man.”


***Editor’s Note: For Part XIV in this series, click here


James M. Thunder is a Washington, D.C., attorney. His master’s thesis was Aquinas on Marriage. He has published widely, including a Narthex series on lay holiness. He and his wife Ann are currently writing on the relationship between Father Karol Wojtyla (the future Pope) and lay people.

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