I believe the world needs more saints. Not the kind of saint I imagined I would be when I was young, but the saints I see around me today.
When I was about six years old, dressed in lavender with an enormous, frilly slip beneath my dress, I followed my two older sisters into church in Dodge City, Kansas, genuflected, crossed myself, and scooted beside them on the kneeler before mass. My mother sat beside me and held my baby brother, just a few months old, in her white-gloved hands. My father was last into the pew and carried another brother, who was not quite three. A sixth baby sister had not yet been born.
My parents dressed like the Kennedys, I thought, with her pill box hat and his business suit. I was proud of my parents in spite of their post World War II alcoholism and depression.
In those early grade school years, I imagined that I would grow up to be a saint like the ones on the holy cards I collected. I pretended to have visions and the stigmata like Padre Pio. I also pretended that I had TB, Polio, and other horrible diseases, but I suffered, stoically. When I actually did have chicken pox and tonsillitis and spent days in the hospital, nuns who were nurses let me draw on their large white collars with blood from my pricked fingers. They polished my halo.
I certainly wasn’t anything special although I wasn’t as bossy as my oldest sister. And I wasn’t a show-off like my second oldest sister who could turn cartwheels and spin a hula-hoop much longer than I could. My brothers weren’t perfect either but they would always have a special fraternal status in our family. I decided that I would be very good, and then I’d be a saint.
Since eighth grade, when Sister Mary Clotilda labeled me a trouble-maker for passing a note, I’ve known that sainthood was always another confession away in spite of my fervent resolutions to avoid the near occasion of sin.
How different would our world be if we modeled our lives after holy people and their examples of self-sacrifice, charity, honesty and courage? Through my middle-aged eyes I now see saintliness all around me. I see it in the friends who bear their crosses and lost jobs with dignity, in the compassion of women serving lunches to the bereaved after parish funerals, in the shop-keeper pouring water for passing animals in the heat of a summer day, in restraint and courtesy, like when patient drivers merge respectfully on a busy interstate. More saints. That’s what the world needs.
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