Look for Lay Holiness – Part XVII

Noticing sanctity in others is an ennobling, uplifting experience



We expect holy laywomen and laymen to be living the Beatitudes. Let us continue our discussion of examples of this.

Blessed Are Those Who Are Persecuted for Righteousness’ Sake

Under this heading, I want to address the gift of long-suffering and the witness of “martyr-confessors.” One of the 12 Fruits of the Holy Spirit is “longanimity,” or “long-suffering” or “endurance.” Even without spilling blood, even without imprisonment, Christians have suffered discrimination, oppression, deprivation of food, housing, shelter, job, education, travel, and companionship. The number of such Christians is legion.

To be deemed a martyr by the Church, one must lose one’s life due to hatred of the Faith. This is a narrowing of the Greek word martyr which simply means “witness.” The Catholic Church has no distinct recognition for those who have lost blood without dying. (By contrast, the American military awards “Purple Hearts” to those members who have lost blood, whether they have been killed or not, in defense of the United States.) George Weigel suggests that those Catholics who have been persecuted or tortured, without dying, be regarded, as they were in the early Church, as “martyr-confessors” (George Weigel, “After the ‘G [genocide]-Word’ Has Been Spoken, First Things, April 6, 2016).

Blessed Are the Peacemakers

A command by Our Lord related to this Beatitude is “Love your enemies” (Matt. 5:44; Luke 6:27). One canonized saint whose attempt at peacemaking, on a grand scale, is often neglected because of his fame in other areas of life was St. Francis of Assisi (ca. 1181-1226). Risking death, the unarmed Francis went through battle lines in 1219 to meet the Sultan al-Kamil at Damietta in northern Egypt (see “The Sultan and the Saint” (2016) narrated by Jeremy Irons; and Lawrence Cunningham’s Francis of Assisi: Performing the Gospel of Life, from 2004).

As an aside I’ll relate that in searching for peacemakers I researched recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize and other peace prizes. I found two people who were raised Catholic, but I learned that they became anti-Catholic: Jody Williams (b. 1950; still living), who received the Nobel Peace Prize, and Sérgio Vieira de Mello (1948-2003) who had a long career with the United Nations.

Before we continue, it’s worth asking: Do you know anyone, or do you know of anyone, currently living or recently deceased, who lives any of these virtues, any gifts or fruits of the Holy Spirit, or any of the Beatitudes to an heroic degree? Is it not a great sadness to go through life without having known someone who is holy? I once expressed my opinion to a priest-friend that a priest we both knew, now elderly, had grown in holiness over the years. His face showed surprise. I don’t know if he didn’t believe it (but wouldn’t counter me) or was surprised that anyone believed it, or was surprised that a layperson would say it.

Look for Holiness Among Laypeople

Where might we find categories of laypeople who might make good candidates for canonization? In thinking about this, I have kept in mind the advice given by the young girl Pollyanna, in the 1960 Disney movie by the same name, who advised her minister, “If you look for the bad in people, you’re sure to find it, so look for the good in them instead.” I must say to you that thinking on this subject over the last couple of years has been an ennobling, uplifting experience for me. I hope it will be for you, too. Look for saints and you will find them. Tell your priests and your bishops, and your children and your grandchildren, and your fellow parishioners about them — and people will imitate the lives of these saints.

Here I’ll say a few words about future blog posts in which I will refer to prominent people, some of whom are non-Catholic. By identifying prominent people, I do not mean to imply that prominence is a criterion for canonization, but prominence is why a larger public knows about them. This allows us to have a conversation about whether they, and the many who were not prominent, have saintly attributes.

Prominence does indeed play a role in the process of canonization. Prominence of the deceased allows their “cult” – their veneration – to extend beyond their particular locale. It prompts the Church to place the feast days of some on the Universal Calendar and some not.


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


James M. Thunder has left the practice of law but continues to write. 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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