Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Ordinary Saints.

This is the one whom I approve: the lowly and afflicted man who trembles at my word. - Isaiah 66: 2

I often think of some of the old, solitary men I often noticed at daily Mass at a downtown church I used to go to.  They were quiet, sat off to the side, praying quietly - sometimes for very long stretches. If someone greeted them, they would nod, otherwise they kept to themselves.  They didn't exhibit any outward piety save for what is expected, genuflections and so on.  No touching statues, no pious poses, nothing 'put on'.  They minded their own business.  I never tried to inquire about them, never tried to meet them or engage them - I even tried to avoid glancing at them - so strong the impression they were engaged in prayer.  They slipped in and out of church, be it for Mass or adoration.

Many daily Mass goers are like that.  I think many older folks, male and female, live quiet, contemplative lives - unobtrusive.  They don't meddle - they don't watch who or what kind of person goes to communion.  I doubt they looked around to see who was devout and who was not, or how people were dressed.  They were not at church for that.

I noticed them.  Not a few seemed poor, not particularly well dressed - perhaps lifelong bachelors or widowers - and probably retired manual laborers.  They taught me by their fidelity, their quiet devotion, without calling attention to themselves - I admired what I now recognize as their humble dignity, integrity, guilelessness I suppose.  

It seems to me a big problem with online evangelists and their incessant self disclosures on 'their' conversion and advice on how to befriend people like themselves how to be Catholic and effective and successful and - whatever their shtick happens to be - it just seems to me their whole thing ends up being about them - 'all about me'.  I may be wrong of course.  In fact - it is really none of my business.

However, having painted and prayed with Matt Talbot these past couple of weeks I was reminded of the hidden souls I used to admire.  Matt Talbot was like those men.  He lived quietly and humbly - an ordinary, hidden life - no self promotion or self canonization ever came between him and the Lord. 

That is the secret of sanctity, I think - I hope.

“Some of those who follow Jesus do so in search of power. Perhaps they do not do so with full consciousness. A clear example of this is to be found in John and James, the sons of Zebedee who asked Jesus to seat them in places of honour, one on His right and one on His left in his Kingdom. And in the Church there are climbers, people driven by ambition! There are many of them! But if you like climbing go to the mountains and climb them: it is healthier! Do not come to Church to climb! And Jesus scolds people with this kind of ambitious attitude in the Church”. - Pope Francis

Photo: Grandpa Dobri 


  1. I have wondered for a few years now if Mary and Joseph were "ordinary saints". Have you seen the bronze sculpture of The Holy Family Resting—The Flight to Egypt in the east entrance to the
    Crypt Church at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington DC?

  2. Dear Terry,
    Thank you for writing this and for expressing in your fourth paragraph something I have long grappled with myself. I'm torn between being grateful for the public/personal testimonies of other Catholics which I have read and been inspired by, but then later feeling like they devolve into perpetual self-promotion, consumerist 'branding,' etc.

    Have you read the recent article called "The Secret Auden" from the NY Review of Books? I think you would enjoy it very much as it shows how W. H. Auden dealt with similar thoughts.

    Here is a link: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2014/mar/20/secret-auden/

  3. Anonymous6:11 PM

    Thank you for this piece. I work as a geriatric care manager with frail or diminished elders, often homeless or at risk, with issues you might expect - mental illness, cognitive impairment, low or no income, exploitive or abusive adult children. Today was a very long day . . . but your words reminded me why I do this work. Thanks again.

  4. What a great picture, Terry!! You find the best pictures to "explain" things, thanks very much. God bless you and ALL your readers.

  5. Bullseye on paragraph four! I was guilty of this, and just last week God was kind enough to let me see it. Here's what happened: I decided to make a website about my street ministry and share a few stories. Sounds harmless--who could object to that? Once the site was done I was going to e-mail the folks at NewAdvent.org and BigPulpit.com and ask them to link to my site (which would result in about ten thousand "hits"). But I never sent the e-mails--I had the impression that it wasn't God's will. A couple days later I finally understood.

    If my site got a lot of attention then people would e-mail or comment, pat me on the back and I'd feel important for a few days--that I was "doing something for the Church". Moreover, I'd spend my free time answering e-mails, fielding inquiries rather than actually doing the ministry. God gave me the grace to see that I wasn't satisfied with just his recognition, and that my motive in making the site was also to avoid DOING the ministry by spending my time writing about it. Moreover, I wasn't satisfied with allowing the ministry to grow organically according to God's slow hand, but wanted to juice it along through some publicity.

    I think most of us are cowards, and that's why we don't progress very far in the spiritual life. We actually don't want to give our life to Christ because we know what the cost is. I'm at a crossroads myself. God has given me a ministry that I don't want. It's not that I'm not good at it--it's that it runs counter to the whole flow of my personality. But that's exactly how God works: he often gives us tasks that are the farthest thing from what we want, and he says, "Come, follow me." Pray for me.

    1. "But that's exactly how God works: he often gives us tasks that are the farthest thing from what we want, and he says, "Come, follow me." "

      I think this is true. What I find sad is that so much vocational talk and promotion in the Church today centers around it as being for our happiness and fulfillment - sort of like the Catholic version of "Your Best Life Now".


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