The saints, Father Thomas Dubay, S.M., writes in his book Fire Within, “labored with the same weak human nature that the rest of us bear along,” yet they “differ from us in that they trust in God to give them what they lack, and they are determined to use what He offers.”
A cursory examination of the history of the Church will reveal that these people of whom Fr. Dubay is speaking—the saints—are the revolutionaries who, through the practice of heroic virtue in the hidden events of everyday life (and occasionally in more extraordinary circumstances), bring about renewal in the Church. The early Church, for example, witnessed martyrs proclaiming the truth of the Gospel through the shedding of their blood. As Christianity became mainstream in the West, figures such as Saints Anthony of the Desert and Benedict of Nursia practiced assorted varieties of monasticism and embraced lives of unparalleled asceticism. Centuries later, Saint Francis, the beloved poverello of Assisi, set an example of evangelical poverty and simplicity in imitation of Christ that has resounded for eight centuries. Unrivaled figures such as Saints Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Francis de Sales, and Ignatius of Loyola arose as leaders, contemplatives, and apologists in the Church’s response to the Protestant Reformation. And in recent decades, the humility of Saint Teresa of Calcutta and the charisma of Pope Saint John Paul II have been celebrated throughout the world by Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
Although the aforementioned figures all differ drastically in temperament, occupation, and cultural background, they nevertheless share a characteristic indispensable to the entirely otherworldly success of their lives. This characteristic, I would like to suggest, is summarized in the words of Fr. Dubay: “they trust in God to give them what they lack, and they are determined to use what He offers.”
If what the Church truly needs is people like this—saints—who trust in God with such abandon that they allow Him to form their hearts and transform them entirely into the image of His Son, then one of the most pressing questions that we, as a Church, must ask is: where do saints come from? In other words, how do we inspire Catholics in every state of life to embrace their faith wholeheartedly, to “hear the word of God and act on it,” (Luke 8:21) in a world that dismisses the Christian proposition as laughable even before it can present its case?
The modern-day answer to these questions often includes the proposal of a new initiative, a new form of outreach, or the bringing-up-to-date of something previously inaugurated. There is no reason why these efforts should necessarily be belittled; in fact, when implemented with the proper disposition of trust in God, they can bear much fruit.
Nevertheless, I believe that it is even more important to ask ourselves if, in the words of Fr. Dubay, we are truly determined to use what God already offers us as we seek to cultivate seeds of faith and, ultimately, sanctity, in the Church. As the lives of figures such as Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II testify, the means of salvation are not present in one century only to disappear in the next; the fount of grace was not flowing in extraordinary abundance during St. Francis’ explorations of the Umbrian countryside only to run dry in the third millennium. Grace—particularly in the sacraments, which are the ordinary means of salvation available to every Christian—is abundant. God will give us what we lack; we must simply be determined to use what He offers—not because His generosity is dependent upon our response, but because He wills that we become cooperators in our own salvation.
On Pentecost Sunday, 2015, Archbishop Samuel Aquila of the Archdiocese of Denver announced, in a pastoral letter entitled “Saints Among Us,” that the archdiocese would be adopting a change that he had previously implemented in the Diocese of Fargo while serving as its bishop: a restoration of the order of the sacraments of initiation to Baptism, Confirmation, and the Eucharist. Thus, rather than receiving Holy Communion for the first time in second grade and waiting until middle or high school to be confirmed, young people in the archdiocese would receive the sacraments of Confirmation and the Eucharist during the same Mass in third grade—shortly after reaching the age of reason.
When asked to explain the motivation for this change in an interview with the National Catholic Register, Archbishop Aquila provided a concise and remarkably lucid answer. “The decision to restore Confirmation to its original place,” he said, “is motivated by my desire to help the people of the Archdiocese of Denver reach heaven.” Whereas Confirmation is often misrepresented to middle and high schoolers simply as the time to “make your faith your own,” in lowering the age of Confirmation, the archbishop effectively removed one of the most common barriers to Confirmation: the opportunity for uncertain or indifferent teenagers to opt out of the religious belief of their parents on the basis of their own newfound autonomy.
The archbishop’s rationale suggests that the deepening of baptismal grace which occurs at Confirmation and which is communicated to every Catholic upon reception of the sacrament is crucial for the upbuilding of the Church. Confirmation, like all of the sacraments, is God’s gift offered to us. It is an ordinary source of grace that is intended to supplement and transfigure our weak human natures. God has provided the means; we must, as Fr. Dubay suggested, simply be resolved to use the gifts that God has already offered with the reckless abandon of the saints.
Nicole O’Leary is a senior Theology major with minors in Italian and Medieval Studies living in McGlinn Hall. Her favorite pastime is wearing cardigans. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.