During the past few days, work has brought me into contact with several people whom I think are wonderfully representative of “the middle class of holiness,” to employ the term coined by Joseph Malegue that Pope Francis uses in his latest apostolic exhortation.
Not all saints have already been canonized, Pope Francis points out in “Gaudete et Exsultate.” He adds that holiness grows through small gestures, and that even with the saints “not everything he or she does is authentic or perfect. What we need to contemplate is the totality of their life, their entire journey of growth in holiness. …”
Considering the totality of life, at least to this point, was the reason for the celebratory dinner on April 20 that recognized the significant jubilees of three of the vowed religious women who minister in the diocese. The three of them have a combined 125 years of service to the poor, to the needy, to students here in Utah, in other places in the United States, and abroad. Their service may not be perfect, but I would say they are holy, if in no other way than in Pope Francis’ definition; he says “holiness is nothing other than charity lived to the full.”
On Saturday I heard Fr. Roger Keeler’s presentation to those who are participating in the English-language lay ecclesial minister formation program. Fr. Keeler, a canon lawyer, gave an introduction to canon law, which “aims at fostering peace or the stability of order within the Church,” Fr. Keeler said. He emphasized that canon law applies itself only to matters within the Church: “Canon law does not legislate morality,” he said, and “canon lawyers are not theologians.”
I admire those who are in the LEM programs, both English and Spanish. They, and those who have already completed the program and been certified, have dedicated four years of study to prepare themselves for ministry in their parishes. They came to mind as I read these words in “Gaudete et Exsultate: “It is not easy to grasp the truth that we have received from the Lord. And it is even more difficult to express it.”
Other examples of everyday holiness came on Sunday, when I attended the Bishop’s Dinner for Clergy and Scouting. Both Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts pledge to do their best to serve God and their country, and to help other people at all times – that is certainly a path to holiness. Their parents and troop leaders, who volunteer their time, are walking along with them. As Pope Francis says, “Growth in holiness is a journey in community, side by side with others.”
One final example came on Monday, when I interviewed a third-grade student who is discerning a possible vocation to the priesthood. He has at least a decade before he can even think about making a commitment to that path, and a lot could happen in those 10 years, but at least he is considering dedicating his life to a pursuit of holiness.
“Led by God’s grace, we shape by many small gestures the holiness God has willed for us,” Pope Francis writes, and all of these people whom I saw these past few days have made those expressions of godliness, whether they have been recognized publicly or not.
Pope Francis encourages all of us to not be afraid of holiness, and he asks us to respond to the call of holiness in practical ways. He speaks of loved ones in our lives whose “lives may not always have been perfect, yet even amid their faults and failings they kept moving forward and proved pleasing to the Lord.” I propose that we need not look for accompaniment on the path to holiness only at those who have already gone ahead, marked by the sign of faith, but also to those who are already living their lives with love, and bearing witness in everything they do.
Marie Mischel is editor of the Intermountain Catholic.