Hidden Lives

Jim Martin’s final post during November is about St. Joseph—and also some contemporary saints Fr. Martin met in Nairobi, Kenya. View a video about St. Joseph, featuring Jim Martin, below, or here (excerpted from the DVD Who Cares About the Saints?).

We think of St. Joseph as Jesus’ “foster” father, the man who took Mary to be his wife, the one who was with her when Jesus was born. Beyond that, we don’t think much about his life, and this is Fr. Martin’s point; there is a “hidden” life to faith, and most of us are living that quiet, little-known sort of life.

It’s difficult to believe this in the day of constant celebrity coverage and of the ongoing “fifteen minutes of fame” that ordinary folk experience through varieties of reality television. These days, even news coverage is more about entertainment and sensational headlines than about reporting—in any balanced way—what is happening in the world to people like you and me.

Most of us will never be well-known. And most of us will not accomplish great things, such as making new discoveries in medicine or astronomy, creating solutions in the world economy, or rising up as important teachers or prophets of the faith. We will live hidden lives, marked by routine and sometimes by drudgery. We will battle the same personal problems again and again. We’ll keep cleaning the house, going to work, trying to talk with our children, taking care of our elderly parents, and striving to stay healthy ourselves. Certainly our lives will be marked by a few highlights, but even our most important life events will go unnoticed by just about everybody else in the world.

Which is just as God intended. In the holy economy of faith, fame doesn’t mean much. What the angels get excited about is our love for one another and for our neighbors. Each act of mercy, gentles, peacefulness, patience, kindness, wisdom, and goodness is known from one end of heaven to the other. Our heavenly Father/Mother is delighted to see us faithfully go to work—whether that’s out in the marketplace or right at home—in order to provide a stable place for our loved ones. In ordinary rooms and spaces all over the world, God’s work is happening, meal by meal and conversation by conversation.

How do you feel about having a hidden life in the world? Do you long to be known, recognized, perhaps famous? If you don’t, then you have escaped one of the most pervasive sins of our age. If you do, then see these misplaced desires for what they are, and practice gratitude for your life.

Exercise for the Week

Go on a news fast. For at least a day—better, two or three days—don’t access the news through television, print, radio, or Internet. Also, stay away from magazines—they thrive on stories about, and pictures of, the famous. Concentrate on the “news” in your home and in the lives of your neighbors. Celebrate your particular life, including its daily routines. Practice gratitude.

To post a tribute to a loved one who has died click on the All Souls remembrance page.

Real Saints in a Gritty World

Here are two consistent facts about saints:

1. They are human beings, as all of us are.

2. They live in a hard and gritty world, as all of us do.

Their saintliness grows out of their engagement with the world as it is. A saint is, first of all, brutally honest—about her own life and about all of life around her. Few saints live out that honesty as well as Dorothy Day, who helped found the Catholic Worker movement.

Some saints are also prophets, and I think this is especially true of those involved in the gritty work of God’s kingdom—those who work with the poor, who confront the injustice of governments and other systems, and who speak the truth regardless of how their listeners respond.

Stop for a moment and think about such prophet-like saints in your own life.

  • There was the mother or aunt or grandmother who always made sure the neighbors had food to eat.
  • There was the man from your church who never dressed very well and who could always be found helping at the neighborhood homeless shelter or food pantry.
  • There was the teacher or professor whose career was sidelined because he or she dared speak up about an issue of justice that was unpopular with the school’s administration.
  • There was the group of people from your neighborhood who braved bone-chilling weather to march in protests against war or the unfair treatment of immigrants.

Fr. Martin writes of how people like Dorothy Day inspire the rest of us to get out in the world and do the hands-on work of the kingdom. Who inspires you? Whose example has moved you to take your faith more seriously or to apply your beliefs to more radical action?

Exercise for the Week

Make a list of the people who are watching your life, who are being influenced by what you say, what you do, and the attitudes you voice.

Consider the possibility that, for someone, you might be that saint who inspires them to live their faith more wholeheartedly and honestly. If that’s the case, how will you live this week? What might you do differently? What challenge might you face?

To post a tribute to a loved one who has died click on the All Souls remembrance page.

God Wants the Authentic You

The word “authentic” pops up a lot these days. Out in the general culture, people recognize that integrity is important. We value honesty, even if it comes in the form of brutal confrontation on a reality TV show.

But authenticity goes further than honesty. Actually, it goes deeper than honesty. Authenticity comes out of a person’s core; it’s an expression of who the person truly is.

In this week’s chapter from My Life with the Saints, Fr. Jim Martin tells us about Thomas Merton. Merton was a Trappist monk who died not that many years ago. While he is not an official saint in the Catholic Church he’s saintly for many people because of his ability to honestly look at his life, see his humanity and also see God’s grace. His autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, has helped people all over the world learn the meaning of authenticity.

Merton talked about the “true self.” He had learned—sometimes the hard way—that human beings have a way of denying who they truly are. Even though we are corrupted by sin, there remains that core person created by God and loved by God. As we grow in our awareness of God’s love, and as we develop our relationship with God, we become more and more in touch with our truest nature—our most authentic self.

So Christians might think of authenticity as living closely connected to our true self. Authenticity gets past all the versions of ourselves that we try to present to the world—versions that we think will seem intelligent or important or attractive. Authenticity concerns my very specific history and the gifts of personality and ability God placed within me. Authenticity means that I accept who I am as a beloved child of God and that I move freely in the world as that daughter or son—not as some other person I’d rather be.

Exercise for the Week

Spend at least an hour in prayer this week—preferably all at once, but you can divide the time into 2 or 3 prayer sessions. During that hour of prayer, have the courage to ask, “God, please show me my deepest, truest self. Help me to accept that self with gratitude and to love that person. Help me walk in the freedom of authenticity.”

To post a tribute to a loved one who has died click on the All Souls remembrance page.

Little Saints

For this month’s discussion of saints, we begin with St. Thérèse of Lisieux. This is a good choice, because she considered herself “little” and she demonstrated and encouraged our love of God through little acts. It’s helpful to start small when we’re trying to develop or grow in some way.

When was the last time you truly felt that by living your ordinary life you were becoming a saint? When surrounded by a culture in which everyone must become famous, even if through a few humiliating moments on a reality television show, it’s difficult to see our ordinary as sacred. In this society, “little” doesn’t count for much.

But St. Thérèse discovered that “little” was quite good enough for God and for holiness: “I applied myself to practicing little virtues, not having the capability of practicing the great.”

We hardly think of ourselves as saints. But in God’s kingdom, we are indeed saints, because we are constantly being transformed into the people God created us to be:

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.”

—2 Corinthians 3:17–18

Do you dare accept this holy identity? Can you own the fact that you are destined to become more and more a true reflection of God?

Exercise for the week:

As you go through this week, take time to jot down the many tasks you do. Also, try to list the various conversations and other interactions you have with people.

Look over the items on this, and for each one ask yourself:

How does this task or interaction give me the opportunity to express love?
How can I perceive God’s love touching me through this task or interaction?

I encourage you to share your thoughts in a comment on the blog.

Then thank God specifically for these opportunities. This simple act of gratitude for what is daily and ordinary is what gradually builds a saintly life.

To post a tribute to a loved one who has died visit the All Souls remembrance page.