One of my parish’s priests cited the “Lumen Gentium” during a recent homily. This document, promulgated by Pope Paul VI, calls each Catholic to greatness:
All the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity… The holiness of the People of God will grow into an abundant harvest of good, as is admirably shown by the life of so many saints in Church history. (Lumen Gentium 40, 41)
“It’s a universal call to holiness,” Father continued. “We are all called to join the ranks of the blessed.” But, chuckling, he informed our congregation there had never been a saint from New Jersey. “Wow,” I thought. “I guess that clears the way for me to be first.”
But how can a half-century-old woman from New Jersey, with plenty of faults and foibles, attain sainthood? I know I couldn’t attain that lofty stature in the same ways as the saints profiled in my copy of the monthly Magnificat magazine: torture, martyrdom, imprisonment, banishment. Thankfully, those avenues to sainthood don’t exist in modern-day NJ and I needn’t suffer such hardships. My biggest obstacle to daily worship is my noontime walk to church through the school playground. The children cavorting there might well launch me towards my eternal reward with an errant kickball to the head or tackle me during a game of Freeze Tag. Perhaps not; but to play it safe, I’d have to explore another road to sainthood.
Then it occurred to me: if I were to address my internal foibles one by one, I could be a step closer to the goal of eventual sainthood without risking my external body parts. I decided to emulate St. Therese of Lisieux, nicknamed the “Little Flower”. This young French Carmelite nun earned sainthood not by any grand gestures, but for all the little kindnesses she performed and the happy attitude she continually displayed. One small step at a time would be my modus operandi, but what step should come first?
Got it! I knew one of my weekly challenges to achieving sainthood occurred just 30 seconds after Sunday Mass: the congregation’s hasty exodus from the church parking lot in order to be first in line at the best bagel shop in town. Week after week as I stood at the cantor podium leading the final hymn, I watched my fellow Catholics reach into their pockets to activate their car remote starters and slip out the side door to the lot, striving to reach the warm bagels first. As cantor, my early absence would be missed, and I found myself resenting those who never got to sing the entire hymn along with the rest of us less fleet of foot. I’d have to make adjustments to conquer this challenge: St. Therese was cloistered, so there was no central Jersey traffic, but I’d do my best to emulate her just the same.
Operation Jersey Sainthood was launched the following Sunday morning. As I sang verse three of the final hymn and watched the hurried departure of the others, I thought, “St. Therese would smile as they sped away; the Little Flower would even pray for their safety. I’ll stay at Mass and take one more step towards becoming the first Garden State saint.” When Mass was done I drove sedately from the church, allowed a fellow third-verse singer-driver to merge, even gallantly held open the bagel shop door to allow a family with adorable young children to enter first. “I did it!” I internally crowed. “I have overcome my resentment and competitive spirit and conquered my biggest hurdle to sainthood.”
But then one of those adorable young children said to the worker behind the counter, “I’d like the very last fresh everything bagel in the bin, please!”
It looks like this particular Sunday, my universal call to holiness met a busy signal. I’ll try again next week, and, since St. Therese was French, maybe I’ll switch to baguettes.