by Giles Staab OFM. Cap.
Saint Therese of Lisieux speaks in her autobiography of the big saints and little saints. The big saints like Paul and Simeon Stylites and Francis and Peter of Alcantara, show the driving power of the grace of God. The little saints are those whose sanctity manifests itself in the ordinary things of life. Blessed Theophane Venard, one of thousands of foreign missionaries, warmly attached to his family, and Saint Conrad of Parzham, the Capuchin lay brother who did nothing more startling than patiently answer the door of the same monastery for forty-one years, are what Saint Therese would call little saints. They manifest the heroism of human nature in the daily grind of life.
Therese herself is a model of the little saints. As she lay in her last illness, she overheard two sisters in the kitchen below talking about her. “Poor Sister Therese will not live much longer,” one nun remarked; “and really sometimes I wonder what our Mother Prioress will find to say about her when she dies, because little Sister Therese, lovable as she is, has never done anything worth talking about.”
The term little saints can be misleading. The essence of the spirituality of the little saints is perfection in little things; and it is as great to be absolutely perfect in the smallest details of life for thirty-six years as it is to live in torture on the top of a pillar [like Saint Simeon Stylites]. Saint Therese’s constant fighting against a natural dislike for another sister in the convent, her struggle to keep awake during meditation and even after Holy Communion, her unswerving fidelity to the letter and spirit of her convent rule reveal the greatness of being little.
“In my Father’s house there are many mansions” was a pet saying the Little Flower. Most of Heaven is reserved for undramatic little saints who, as people would say, never did anything worth talking about.
November opens with a procession of saints – apostles, prophets, martyrs, confessors, virgins. Whole books have been filled with the simple catalogue of their names, but by far the majority of the saints do not wear the halo of official canonization. God and His Church have singled out relatively few to stand as milestones along the narrow and rugged way.
In a letter Saint Therese casually remarked that one of the novice sisters at Lisieux was a hundred times better than she; yet this evident saint has been absorbed into the nameless multitude of Heaven.
If Heaven has countless unsung saints, so has earth. There is too much disheartening talk today of atheists and gangsters, or rakes and bawds, and not enough inspiration talk of the saints with whom they rub elbows. There are old men and women dreaming over their rosaries, and working lads and pretty girls planning their lives around Holy Mass and Communion – people in all stages of life going far beyond the mere prohibitions of the decalogue [Ten Commandments].
Not long ago an actress died, a star of stage and screen. The world knew the music of her laughter and the rhythm of her dance, but God and her mother knew the fervor of her daily Communion and the importance of her daily rosary.
The heart of every man has the same longing for the things of God as the heart of every saint. The saints cast aside with an endless struggle all things that obscured the bright blue of the sky. The grace of God is not dead, but the Holy Spirit continues to breathe where He will. The fight for sanctity goes on and on, sometimes in the most unlikely places and professions. God in His providence made apostles of fishermen, and He can make saints of dancers and mechanics. Heaven will be full of surprises.