Popes have lamented that the church’s roster of saints is overflowing with religious and clergy and under-represented by laity. Pope John Paul II, thinking out loud, once said the world needs more married couples declared saints, as models for modern families.
In a 2015 article for CNN, Chris Lowney wrote: “Of more than 10,000 formally recognized saints, only about 500 have been married, even though many billions of married people have roamed the Earth over the centuries.”
Pope Francis published “Gaudete et Exsultate” (“Rejoice and Be Glad”), an apostolic exhortation on holiness April 9. It is filled with practical advice on the practicality of living a saintly life, for everyone. “A great cloud of witnesses,” he said, encourages each Christian to take steps toward holiness. “These witnesses may include our own mothers, grandmothers or other loved ones,” he wrote.
In a footnote about how saints are happy and usually have a good sense of humour, Pope France quoted a prayer attributed to the English martyr, St. Thomas More:
“Grant me, O Lord, good digestion, and also something to digest. Grant me a healthy body, and the necessary good humour to maintain it. Grant me a simple soul that knows to treasure all that is good and that doesn’t frighten easily at the sight of evil, but rather finds the means to put things back in their place. Give me a soul that knows not boredom, grumbling, sighs and laments, nor excess of stress, because of that obstructing thing called ‘I.’ Grant me, O Lord, a sense of good humour. Allow me the grace to be able to take a joke and to discover in life a bit of joy, and to be able to share it with others.”
Some of Pope Francis’ other practical points include:
“I like to contemplate the holiness present in the patience of God’s people: in those parents who raise their children with immense love, in those men and women who work hard to support their families, in the sick, in elderly religious who never lose their smile.”
“Holiness is the most attractive face of the church.”
“The important thing is that each believer discern his or her own path, that they bring out the very best of themselves, the most personal gifts that God has placed in their hearts, rather than hopelessly trying to imitate something not meant for them.”
“In times when women tended to be most ignored or overlooked, the Holy Spirit raised up saints whose attractiveness produced new spiritual vigor and important reforms in the church.”
“We are frequently tempted to think that holiness is only for those who can withdraw from ordinary affairs to spend much time in prayer. That is not the case.”
“This holiness to which the Lord calls you will grow through small gestures.”
“Do not be afraid of holiness. It will take away none of your energy, vitality or joy.”
“Thanks be to God, throughout the history of the church it has always been clear that a person’s perfection is measured not by the information or knowledge they possess, but by the depth of their charity.”
“The saints are not odd and aloof, unbearable because of their vanity, negativity and bitterness. The Apostles of Christ were not like that.”
“The saints do not waste energy complaining about the failings of others; they can hold their tongue before the faults of their brothers and sisters and avoid the verbal violence that demeans and mistreats others.”
“Christian joy is usually accompanied by a sense of humour.”
“A community that cherishes the little details of love, whose members care for one another and create an open and evangelizing environment, is a place where the risen Lord is present, sanctifying it in accordance with the Father’s plan.”
“I do not believe in holiness without prayer, even though that prayer need not be lengthy or involve intense emotions.”
“The devil does not need to possess us. He poisons us with the venom of hatred, desolation, envy and vice. When we let down our guard, he takes advantage of it to destroy our lives, our families and our communities.”
A similar call to practical holiness is outlined in a poem said to be inspired by Pope John Paul II. It is called “We need saints.”
“We need saints without cassocks, without veils — we need saints with jeans and tennis shoes. We need saints that go to the movies that listen to music, that hang out with their friends. We need saints that place God in first place ahead of succeeding in any career. We need saints that look for time to pray every day and who know how to be in love with purity, chastity and all good things. We need saints — saints for the 21st century with a spirituality appropriate to our new time. We need saints that have a commitment to helping the poor and to make the needed social change. We need saints to live in the world, to sanctify the world and to not be afraid of living in the world by their presence in it. We need saints that drink Coca-Cola, that eat hot dogs, that surf the Internet and that listen to their iPods. We need saints that love the eucharist, that are not afraid or embarrassed to eat a pizza or drink a beer with their friends. We need saints who love the movies, dance, sports, theatre. We need saints that are open sociable normal happy companions. we need saints who are in this world and who know how to enjoy the best in this world without being callous or mundane. We need saints.”
Above all, we need saints who receive and can share the mercy and love of God.