For the past few weeks, I’ve been frustrated by my less-than-picturesque prayer life.
Growing up Catholic, going to youth group and retreats and Sunday school classes, I’d hear…
“You are called to be a saint.”
The saints were those watercolor portraits in the hardcover book I’d received for First Communion. They were grand statues and fragile, stained glass windows. When I heard, “You are called to be a saint,” I understood that to mean: “You’re meant to be united with God in Heaven forever,” and “You’re meant to be like these grand, historical figures.”
I thought I’d get to Heaven by being good and following all the rules. In my teens, I developed severe scruples, a judgmental attitude, and habits of self-abasement. Looking back, I realize the irony; all three are obstacles to holiness.
Saint Paul must have interceded. As a young adult, “You are called to be a saint,” took on a more romantic meaning. I came to understand that union with God begins now. So, I pursued union with God by looking to the “mystics” or “contemplatives” – like Teresa of Avila, Thérèse of Lisieux, and Teresa of Calcutta. Each were known for deep, intimate prayer experiences with God, and interior lives of quiet contemplation — even in the midst of turmoil, persecution, or confusion.
In his mercy, God allowed me to have almost mystical or dream-like prayer experiences. He led me to a spiritual director and some counselors. Loose ends that had been fraying inside me for a long time began mending.
Suddenly — my husband and I both experienced work schedule changes.
My early mornings of Scripture reading and meditation fell away. Our once-calm arrival home in the evenings, sitting in silence and then reciting Vespers, turned into an exhausted and hungry collapse into our apartment, rush to make dinner, wash dishes, and fall into bed.
I expressed my frustration to my spiritual director. Why couldn’t I live like a monk anymore? He would laugh, “Teresa of Avila was a great saint, but there’s one problem: She was celibate!!! You’re a married woman!!!” Way to state the obvious, Padre.
This Heading Is Here Because There Is No Smooth Transition to the Next Story
Then, a couple of weeks ago, my husband cooked a whole chicken for the very first time. Eight hours on “Low” in the Crockpot, and then he gently lifted up the tender bird and plopped it down perfectly on the platter, right? You cooks out there are laughing, I’m sure.
He stood in the corner of our kitchen staring at the bird and two Tupperware containers he’d set aside: one for the meat, one for the bones and fat. After fifteen minutes vainly attempting to pick out tiny chicken bones, the man I married began making “I Am Thoroughly Annoyed By This Activity” noises, and I offered to take over.
Forty minutes later, I was still standing there, picking out the tiny chicken bones from the gushy-soft chicken; perhaps one of the most tedious cooking tasks known to mankind. My husband came to visit, praising me for being “an angel” and “a saint” for performing this task with a smile.
“It’s no big deal,” I genuinely assured. “I just have more vocational grace for this than you do.”
Perhaps the Holy Spirit was speaking through me, because as I continued bone-picking, I reflected on what had just come forth from my humble mouth. Yes, I realized, this chicken is my path to holiness.
After recounting this story to Father Kyle, he smiled and pulled out the “Teresa of Avila was a celibate!!! You’re a married woman!!” line again, except that this time, it made sense.
“Well,” I quipped, “I wish there were more saint biographies with stories about them picking out chicken bones!” If there were, I might’ve realized this sooner:
As wonderful as holy cards, statues, and stained glass windows may be, I can never reach Heaven by trying to live exactly like the saints who have gone before me. My path to holiness has never been walked before, and it will never be repeated. My life of sanctity is meant to be lived — at least for now — in a little apartment in San Antonio, espoused to a former Californian who produces radio commercials. My path to holiness has a soundtrack from my iTunes playlist. It’ll be lived with fibromyalgia and a sensitive stomach, no chocolate, a glass of red wine every now and then. It may not involve a daily Rosary, but there’s a Divine Mercy Chaplet every weekday, and ‘offering up’ the times our toilet needs too many plunges.
That’s my life. That’s my one-of-a-kind path to holiness.
From the saints I must take the substance, not the accidents of their virtues. I am not St. Aloysius, nor must I seek holiness in his particular way, but according to the requirements of my own nature, my own character and the different conditions of my life. I must not be the dry, bloodless reproduction of a model, however perfect. God desires us to follow the examples of the saints by absorbing the vital sap of their virtues and turning it into our own life-blood, adapting it to our own individual capacities and particular circumstances. If St. Aloysius had been as I am, he would have become holy in a different way. – Pope Saint John XXIII (Journal of a Soul)