I was complaining to my husband the other day that there aren’t any prominent married saints – at least none who actually lived the sacrament of marriage. It seems like the only way to be a married saint is to be a 14-year-old girl who, having taken a vow of virginity, is forced to marry a big, gross, abusive pagan man. What about us regular spouses who chose to marry each other and who get along pretty well? Don’t we get someone to look up to?
My husband listened to my griping, then ruined my perfectly good bad mood. “I don’t know why it’s necessary,” he said. “We’re all supposed to practice the same virtues.”
I had been trying to justify a claim (sorry, God) that I don’t even know how to be a good wife! which, of course, I could very cleverly follow up with Stop expecting so much of me! The lack of prominent married saints means I’m not responsible for being patient, or humble, or mature? That’s an argument for laziness.
It’s easy to use the great saints as an excuse not to be holy in the lives we’re actually living. We can think of St. Maximilian Kolbe, then say “well, I don’t have an opportunity to take someone’s place in an Auschwitz gas chamber like he did, so I guess I’m off the hook today.” But that’s not how it works. If we keep chasing after great opportunities like this, we’ll miss the real opportunities in our own lives.
Holiness is often annoyingly, boringly obvious and simple. I have no indication of a vocation to give up all my wealth like St. Francis of Assisi (not sure how I’d talk my husband into that, anyway), but I’m still called to poverty and detachment: when my sandal broke the other day, and when I lost my favorite running shorts. St. Damien of Molokai, another exciting saint, went to Hawaii to take care of the lepers, and eventually died of leprosy. I’m also called to care for the sick – for example, when my husband has a cold. St. Lawrence made some witty remarks while being roasted over a fire – a neat sort of martyrdom. That’s more exciting than holding my patience when the three-year-old I babysit chases his brother with a Fisher Price frying pan, but the latter is my job, a step in my path to holiness.
Holiness is always an option, and opportunities to grow in holiness are always right in front of us. But we often don’t want those opportunities; we want the cool opportunities that the saints had. It’s because we’re lazy, and because we’re not looking at reality. I know how hard it is to work in a little more patience and humility next time my husband and I disagree. I’ve tried it, and don’t like doing it. I don’t know how stressed St. Joan of Arc was when she talked to her parents about leaving. I don’t know how close St. Therese was to giving up her vocation. I don’t know what emotions St. Ignatius of Antioch was hiding when he wrote his letter to the Romans. We gloss over those parts. As much as I think I want a cool opportunity like a great saint had, if someone seriously posed the question, I know I’d take my husband over a concentration camp any day.
The path to holiness isn’t confusing or hard to figure out. You don’t have to wait for a great opportunity to be holy, the way you have to wait for a college degree to get a career. You can start now. If you’re stuck, start listing virtues: prudence, temperance, humility, patience, generosity, purity, courage, kindness, forgiveness, hope, perseverance, honesty. Don’t you want to be that sort of person? Why aren’t you? When did you last miss an opportunity to behave this way? Watch for it, and make a plan so you don’t miss it next time.
So what if I don’t know any saints who lived in circumstances similar to mine? I know that my first loyalty is to God and to the vows I made before him – to love my husband and any children God may send us. I know the virtues I’m supposed to practice. I know the vices I’m supposed to avoid. And, really, that’s all I need.
© 2013. Mary C. Tillotson. All Rights Reserved.