Canonized saints who exemplify the vocation of marriage are hard to come by. There are two reasons for this, one intrinsic to the married state, the other political. These two reasons raise the question of whether those of us who are married require saints who were married to be our guides.
The first reason there are so few married saints is intrinsic to marriage and family. The very nature of the vocation to marriage places the sphere of holiness around hearth and home where it remains largely invisible to the public. Priests are called to minister to a larger community, to preach, and to direct souls. Religious sometimes share in this mission or they may work in public services such as those provided by schools and hospitals. At the very least their holiness is manifest in their communities.
Even those called to the single state are oriented ad extra, toward service that is in some way public, and perhaps toward new foundations and enterprises that will make their mark on the world. But the ministry of the married is primarily to their own families. To the degree that spouse and children are the object of the married person's holiness, the sanctity of married persons will be little known outside a very small circle. And to the degree that a husband or wife achieves a more public holiness, especially in the absence of children or after the children are grown, their achievements, however laudable, are not precisely grounded in the marital vocation.
Lobbying for Saints
This becomes doubly significant when one considers the political nature of canonizations. To be canonized, a saint not only needs to be known but needs to have a lobby, an organization vigorously promoting the cause. There is nothing whatsoever wrong with this; it is the necessary propulsion along every road to formal recognition. Here again, priests and religious have a significant advantage. The diocese or religious order in which a saint has risen to prominence has a strong interest in advancing that saint's cause and a ready-made organization for pursuing it.
It is no surprise, then, that so few married people have been canonized. Undoubtedly, of course, there are many more souls in heaven who were married than were priests or religious. The sheer numeric mismatch among these vocations is staggering. But we're talking here about canonized saints. We have little ability to know or promote the holiness of couples who have found their sanctification, as they are supposed to do, in the fulfillment of their wedding vows.
Does the lack of married models seriously hamper the quest for holiness among those called to marriage? I don't think so. The genius of sanctity does not consist in the specific works one performs, the public impact one makes, or even the specific vocation to which one is called. These are all simply means to the same end, union with God. When we read the lives of the saints, we may find their external achievements fascinating and even instructive, but what we are really trying to imitate is their interior achievements.
The interior life of the saint colors everything he or she does. The spirit of a Saint Francis de Sales or a Thérèse of Lisieux would have kept them conformed to God's will no matter what their circumstances. In reading the lives of the saints we are not so much trying to figure out which of their external activities to imitate as to see what made them tick, to see God at work in them. The goal is not the learning of a set of tasks but the transformation of self.
We can get practical advice about how to make our marriages stronger from many different sources. The purpose of canonized saints is to fire us with a love of God which will infuse and elevate everyting we do. So, yes, married canonized saints are hard to come by. But it doesn't really matter, and it is certainly no excuse.
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Posted by: amber3287 -
Jul. 06, 2019 11:19 AM ET USA
Thank you for this beautiful piece of writing and for sharing these photos. St. Margaret Clitherow is my Confirmation saint and I always love to read about her. I’m an adult convert from the Episcopal Church, married with children and she called to me through the centuries as I approached my Confirmation. I pray that I can be as brave and dedicated to the Truth as she was, and that be a holy example for my children as she was.
Posted by: Randal Mandock -
Jul. 04, 2019 8:27 AM ET USA
If I expose myself to the secular media on a regular basis, I often see claims about women breaking this "glass ceiling" or that one. These are ceilings of ambition. In contrast, the ceilings broken by the martyrs are ceilings of faith and humility before God--precisely the contrary of the glass ceilings that are proffered as challenges to be conquered by the modern political feminist woman. As is the ubiquitous norm, we see the pride of the secular juxtaposed against the humility of the holy.
Posted by: winnie -
Jul. 02, 2019 5:25 PM ET USA
St. Margaret Clitherow’s humble shrine or towering York Minster? You have chosen the better part.