When I was young, I thought that becoming a saint was like becoming a celebrity – pretty cool if it happened, but highly unlikely. Perhaps, then, when my school’s wax museum came around in second grade, my “celebrity” of choice was Saint Bernadette. While my friends chose more mainstream famous people like Florence Nightingale or Walt Disney, I instead donned a simple brown skirt and covered my hair with a white folded shawl, and got to be a saint for the afternoon. Sure, I had the look of a saint, but could I ever really become one? Here are some of the myths about sainthood that I would like to debunk:
Only some people can become saints
Becoming a saint is not like becoming a celebrity because anyone can strive for it (and by the grace of God, the odds are better). I was made aware of this possibility after I went on my first teen retreat my junior year of high school called Camp Veritas. The camp director asked us if we knew the objective of our lives. He told us that it is heaven, and if it is not, we are wasting our time. If heaven is our objective, then the call to sainthood is indeed universal.
You have to be part of religious life to be a saint
I had a very particular idea about what a saint looked like. Either they would be a religious sister in a habit or a priest dressed in vestments. But, saints come from all sorts of backgrounds. I am particularly inspired by St. Gianna Beretta Molla, a mother and a physician, who carried her fourth baby to term at the expense of her own life.
Saints have no fun
Again, back to the idea of a saint who was part of religious life. I thought saints led a solemn, prayerful existence devoid of fun. But I was quite wrong. Perhaps the best example if this is Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. He epitomizes the concept of a cute, cool, Catholic who led others to Christ through fellowship. He lived a life of service, prayer, and most especially adventure.
Sainthood is only about an individual quest for God
I used to believe that saints had a special, individual, connection with God, and that sainthood was a solitary journey. But, I have come to discover sainthood is all about living in an authentic Christian community. Becoming a Music Mentor for Notre Dame Vision after my freshman year particularly convinced me of this idea. Not only were we inspired and encouraged by the “witness to holiness” saints we were matched with, but also the Vision community itself came to more fully realize the heavenly mission here on earth by the way that we journeyed alongside one another and discovered a deeper capacity to love and be loved by God. I still joke I have “Vision withdrawal” because of the beautiful way that I experienced Christian community that summer.
You have to be really smart to be a saint
The patron saint for the Identity Club is Edith Stein (St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross), and she is the inspiration for our yearly Edith Stein Conference in the spring. Let’s just say that she is one smart cookie. She wrote extensively about the human identity and the human person, most especially concerning the vocation of women. A lot of her work is highly philosophical and sometimes a little hard to comprehend. But, we definitely do not need to be as smart as Edith Stein in order to pursue sainthood. Take St. Andre Bessette for example, who is the first saint from the Congregation of the Holy Cross. He was not the smartest member of the Holy Cross, but he knew how to love. He lived the line “love is an open door” by the hospitality that he showed to the pilgrims coming to The Oratory in Montreal.
But, the question remains: how do we actually become saints? The most tangible way forward that I see involves living a life of virtue. Sarah Swafford in her book Emotional Virtue goes into detail about what this looks like. She highlights the need to come together with groups of people who encourage us to become the best versions of ourselves. One such group on campus is called the Identity Project. This fall, we will sharing about saints that have touched our lives. Meetings are every other Monday at 6pm and future weeks include discussions about Pier Giorgio Frassati, Imelda Lambertini, and Teresa of Calcutta, just to name a few. If you’d like to join the conversation, feel free to email me.
Ultimately, striving for sainthood is not about figuring out the big questions of life all at once. Vocational discernment is important, but should not be a constant source of worry. Rather, we should consider how we can love Christ more in any given day and circumstance. We do not have to look far to find someone who is need of God’s love. And who knows, by the grace of God, we might just become saints one day.
Emily Hirshorn is Breen-Phillips Hall junior majoring in Arabic and minoring in Collaborative Innovation and Theology. Serendipity is her favorite word and her favorite thing. Reach out to her at email@example.com. Or if you want to reach her freshman brother, try hirshorn.2.