Substantially Saints

I wish y’all a joyous Solemnity of All Saints! It is good to remember the Heavenly Kingdom by commemorating all of its inhabitants at once.

My former rector, and now spiritual director said the homily at the Mass today, and he gave a really helpful reminder to not see this solemnity as just another day to ask for intercessions or remember specific saints. But rather, to use today as lens through which to see our final end as saints of our own. Remembering All Saints, we remember that Heaven is our home.

That being said, I had a very specific Saint jump out at me today, and that was Pope St. John XXIII. I’ve been reading his ‘Journal of a Soul’, and it has been incredible. A certain passage from his time in the seminary at Rome seemed especially fitting for today, and it also spoke to a struggle I’ve been having with the saints during the past couple of years.

One thing that has surprised me in my journey through seminary, is how much you get to know certain Saints. It’s very hard to go a full day without hearing about some crazy story about St. John Vianney hearing confessions, or St. Padre Pio bilocating. (A common conversation topic is “What would you do with the other you if you could bilocate” The answer usually being. “take a nap”). In all seriousness, I have found some of the stories of holiness that we get saturated with discouraging. I look at the Cure of Ars, often held up as the paragon of Pastoral charity when it comes to the confessional, and then I look at myself, zoned out on the couch, drinking a whiskey and coke while watching hockey, and I think “Well dang it.” And while I understand that everyone has their unique path to sanctity, I also get discouraged by the legendary holiness of some of our Church ‘celebrities.’

Not saying today’s foray into Pope St. John XXIII was a silver bullet for that particular struggle, but it made a really helpful and Aristotelian distinction between comparison with the saints and imitating them. Reading his journal entries throughout the years, it is clear that Angelo Roncalli also struggled heavily with comparison, especially with St. Aloysius Gonzaga. However, in today’s journal entry, he says: “I used to say to myself: in this case Aloysius would have done so and so… [This] method was wrong. From the saints I must take the Substance, not the accidents, of their virtues.” Now, I have not fully parsed out what this distinction means on a practical level, but having this helpful distinction to begin with is a great place to start. Its seems so much more clear than simply saying: Be like the saints, but don’t be exactly like the saints. Roncalli continues: “God desires us to follow the examples of the saints by absorbing the vital sap of their virtues and turning it into our own life-blood, adapting it to our own individual capacities and particular circumstances.” I love his analogy of tree sap, it’s such a Catholic image. Christ is the vine, we are the branches, and we should have saintly sap flow through us, not to copy another branch, but to gain health from an already healthy branch.

Now, I’ll have to get back to you on whether my call to holiness involves watching hockey and drinking whiskey and coke, but for now, this simple reflection will keep me going as I try to figure out how to imitate saints substantially and not accidentally.

God bless

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