In our In Focus this week, timed for the feast of All Saints, author Bert Ghezzi seeks to shatter a common Catholic myth: Sainthood is just for the special.
In truth, we tend to consider anyone who achieves success — whether it be sanctity, celebrity, wealth or scientific achievement — as gifted with some extraordinary talent or grace that most of us, in our workaday lives, could never hope to attain.
Not so. Even in the realm outside sanctity, experts increasingly are telling us that success is not a factor of unique talent.
Bill Gates? John D. Rockefeller? Albert Einstein? The Beatles? All talented, yes, but none of them would have achieved the success they did without hard work and opportunity. In a recent book, “Outliers: The Story of Success” (Little, Brown and Company, $27.99), Malcolm Gladwell writes: “We are so caught in the myths of the best and the brightest and the self-made that we think outliers [people who break the ‘normal’ mold] spring naturally from the earth. We look at the young Bill Gates and marvel that our world allowed that 13-year-old to become a fabulously successful entrepreneur. But that’s the wrong lesson. Our world only allowed one 13-year-old unlimited access to a time-sharing [computer] terminal in 1968. If a million teenagers had been given the same opportunity, how many more Microsofts would we have today?”
How does opportunity and hard work translate to sanctity success?
Opportunity is clear. All of us, no matter in what state of life, or with whatever mental, emotional or physical baggage, can decide — right now — to pursue sanctity. As Ghezzi writes: “What distinguishes saints from most people is their life purpose. Simply put, more than anything else, they wanted to be saints.”
Second is hard work. In the non-sanctity realm, Gladwell reports success involves the “10,000-hour rule”: To succeed, you need at least 10,000 hours practice. “Even Mozart — the greatest musical prodigy of all time — couldn’t hit his stride until he had his 10,000 hours in.”
For sanctity, practice means daily prayer, frequent recourse to the sacraments, meditatively reading the Bible and seizing each moment of the day to practice God’s own love.
As Dorothy Day noted, sanctity takes practice: “We practice scales on the piano. And any practice is awkward and difficult. But it is necessary to attain any kind of proficiency in the spiritual life.”
Mastery of the spiritual life also involves becoming opportunities for the sanctity of others. Especially parents have a duty to create a fertile spiritual terrain for their children.
Several weeks ago, proclaiming five new saints, including Father Damien, the priest of Hawaii’s leper colony, Pope Benedict XVI said in his homily: “[The saints’] perfection, in the logic of faith sometimes humanly incomprehensible, consists in no longer putting themselves at the center but in choosing to go against the tide, living in line with the Gospel.”
We benefit from the example of saints that go before us — but only if we take the time to read and meditate on their lives, which we’ll be surprised to discover can be as workaday as ours. Starting this week, you will find a saint briefly profiled on Page 2 of this paper. That’s one small step. We are called to do more.
We know that to build a better world we need to replace our apathy with a desire to be what God plans for us — and to be willing to work each day to get there.
Editorial Board: Greg Erlandson, publisher; Msgr. Owen F. Campion, associate publisher; Beth McNamara, editorial director; John Norton, editor; Sarah Hayes, presentation editor