“The types of sanctity present within the Church are varied but, howsoever numerous and whatsoever may be their characteristic, the Saints are all heroes. Though it is not always possible to imitate them – points out Cardinal Newman – they all show us the invisible world and reveal to us the way which leads to Heaven.
TEMPTATIONS IN THE WILDERNESS
‘There was St Benedict, who, when a boy, left Rome, and betook himself to the Apennines in the neighbourhood. Three years did he live in prayer, fasting, and solitude, while the evil one assaulted him with temptation. One day, when it grew so fierce that he feared for his perseverance, he suddenly flung himself, in his scanty hermit’s garb, among the thorns and nettles near him, thus turning the current of his thoughts, and chastising the waywardness of the flesh, by sensible stings and smarts.
THE MINISTER OF SATAN PAID HIM A VISIT IN HIS STUDY
There was St Thomas, too, the Angelical Doctor, as he is called, as holy as he was profound, or rather the more profound in theological science, because he was so holy. Even from a youth he had sought wisdom, he had stretched out his hands on high, and directed his soul to her, and possessed his heart with her from the beginning; and so, when the minister of Satan came into his very room, and no other defence was at hand, he seized a burning brand from the hearth, and drove that wicked one, scared and baffled, out of his presence.
BY THE SOVEREIGN GRACE OF GOD
Not all Saints have been such in youth: for there are those on the contrary, who, not till after a youth of sin, have been brought by the sovereign grace of God. Others have been called, not from vice and ungodliness, but from a life of mere ordinary blamelessness, or from a state of lukewarmness, or from thoughtlessness, to heroic greatness; and these have often given up lands, and property, and honours, and station, and repute, for Christ’s sake.
KINGS HAVE DESCENDED FROM THEIR THRONES
Kings have descended from their thrones, bishops have given up their rank and influence, the learned have given up their pride of intellect, to become poor monks, to live on coarse fare, to be clad in rough cloth, to rise and pray while others slept, to mortify the tongue with silence and the limbs with toil, and to awow an unconditional obedience to another. In early times there were the Martyrs, many of them girls and even children, who bore the most cruel, the most prolonged, the most diversified tortures, rather than deny the faith of Christ.
… RATHER THAN DENY THE FAITH OF CHRIST
Then came the Missionaries among the heathen, who, for the love of souls, threw themselves into the midst of strangers, risking or perhaps losing their lives in the attempt to extend the empire of their Lord and Saviour, and who, whether living or dying, have by their lives or by their deaths succeeded in bringing whole nations into the Church. Others have devoted themselves in the time of war or captivity, to the redemption of Christian slaves from pagan or Mahometan masters or conquerors; others to the care of the sick in pestilences, or in hospitals; others to the instruction of the poor; others to the education of children; others to incessant preaching and the duties of the confessional; others to devout study and meditation; others to a life of intercession and prayer.
THEIR VERY VARIETY IS A TOKEN OF GOD’S WORKMANSHIP
Very various are the Saints; their very variety is a token of God’s workmanship; but however various, and whatever was their special line of duty, they have been heroes in it; they have attained such noble self-command, they have so crucified the flesh, they have so renounced the world; they are so meek, so gentle, so tender-hearted, so merciful, so sweet, so cheerful, so full of prayer, so diligent, so forgetful of injuries; they have sustained such great and continued pains, they have persevered in such vast labours, they have made such valiant confessions, they have wrought such abundant miracles, they have been blessed with such strange successes, that they have been the means of setting up a standard before us of truth, of magnanimity, of holiness, of love.
THE SAINTS POINT TO CHRIST
They are not always our examples, we are not always bound to follow them; no more than we are bound to obey literally some of our Lord’s precepts, such as turning the cheek or giving away the coat; no more than we can follow the course of the sun, moon, or stars in the heavens; but, though not always our examples, they are always our standard of right and good; they are raised up to be monuments and lessons, they remind us of God, they introduce us into the unseen world, they teach us what Christ loves, they track out for us the way which leads heavenward. They are to us who see them, what wealth, notoriety, rank, and name are to the multitude of men who live in darkness, – objects of our veneration and of our homage.’”
– Bl. John Henry Newman. This article was published in “De Vita Contemplativa” (Monthly magazine for Monasteries), Year V – Number 7 – July 2011