Saints Come In All Shapes and Sizes … Like Yours and Mine

I was discussing with my daughter something we adults need to remember, too: No one can ever give “I’m not like that,” as a reason not to be a saint.

First, we listed people we know who are devoted Catholics: Brainy types, athletic types, outdoorsy teens and video-game champions, chatty popular kids and shy retiring kids. Then, together, we started listing saints: St. Anna Wang, the Chinese girl killed for her faith is nothing like St. John Vianney, the French priest. St. Charles Lwanga in Africa is very unlike Albertus Magnus. Pior Giorgio Frassatti is totally different from Kateri Tekakwitha.

There are saints who loved elaborate habits, and saints who loved plain workclothes. There are saints who love the ornate and Gothic, and Catholics who love the austere and simple. There are seafaring saints, city dwelling saints forest cabin saints, and shantytown saints.

Some saints are sophisticated, others are plain.

Intellectual and statesman St. Thomas More was chancellor of the realm the freed slave St. Josephine Bakhita, did the best with the education she had.

Great brains from St. Thomas Aquinas to St. Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) show that the faith, with all of its nuances and vast implications, can withstand intense scrutiny. But what is  “hidden … from the wise and learned,” is revealed to the simple, including St. Agatha Kim A-gi who couldn’t learn even the basics of the faith she died for.

There are strictly ordered, no-nonsense, button-downed Catholics from St. Robert Bellarmine to the many engineers entering the priesthood today. They appreciate the way the Church is organized by lists and clear steps. Then there are wild and surprising poets from St. Hildegard of Bingen to Gerard Manly Hopkins, pioneers of language and art who reshape symbols to think new thoughts.

Fine art lovers from the Medicis to Elizabeth Lev, see and appreciate the difference between greater art, okay art, and kitsch art. But there are also Catholics who are lovers of images from the catacomb cartoons to the Divine Mercy image and sentimental holy cards that are not great art but are devotional aids.

Some saints are boisterous; others are quiet and focused.

There are lovers of silence, from silent St. Joseph to the Grand Chartreuse Carthusians, people who say little but listen well. But then there are lovers of energy and excitement, people who thrill to the rush of noise, from battlefield saint Father Emil Kapaun the first converts to Catholics who thrived in a din of voices, like St. Margaret of Scotland, who raised eight children (including one saint), St. Francis of Girolamo (the oldest of 11) and St. Gianna Molla, the 10th of 13 children.

There are lovers of service projects, who attend to details and get things done, like St. Martha, who learned from the Lord himself how to do activity right to those parish volunteers you see in the kitchen, behind the table and behind the scenes at every parish function.  And there are lovers of study, from St. Jerome (who nonetheless left his books to serve when it was needed) to Carlos Acutis who spent hours reaching the world online as well as in person.

St. Augustine summed up the variety holy lives well.

“One is a life of faith, the other a life of vision; one is a life passed on pilgrimage in time, the other in a dwelling place in eternity; one is a life of toil, the other of repose; one is spent on the road, the other in our homeland; one is active, involving labor, the other contemplative, the reward of labor,” he said.

Holiness comes in all shapes and sizes — including yours and mine, I told my daughter.

St. Thérèse of Lisieux compared souls to flowers in a field; every one different, and every one beautiful.

The real question in each of our lives is, what does God want my life to teach the world about holiness?


This appeared at Aleteia

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes, author of The Rosary of Saint John Paul II and The Fatima Family Handbook, is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Kansas and hosts The Extraordinary Story podcast about the life of Christ. A former reporter in the Washington, D.C., area, he served as press secretary of the U.S. House Ways & Means Committee Chairman and spent 10 years as executive editor of the National Catholic Register newspaper and Faith & Family magazine. His work frequently appears in Catholic publications such as Aleteia.org and the Register. He and his wife, April, have nine children and live in Atchison, Kansas.