Editorial: Finding heroic virtue

During the past few years, the Church in the United States has witnessed major milestones for several men and women on the path to sainthood. New Jersey-based Blessed Sister Miriam Teresa Demjanovich was beatified in Newark in October 2014, the first beatification to take place on U.S. soil. St. Junipero Serra, the California-based missionary, was canonized by Pope Francis in Washington, D.C., in September 2015. And this fall, the Church will declare as blessed two more men: Father Stanley Rother, the Oklahoma priest-martyr who was killed in Guatemala, on Sept. 23; and Capuchin Father Solanus Casey, the Wisconsin-born priest and friar who ministered to so many simply by listening to them, on Nov. 18. 

It is a time of great rejoicing for the U.S. Church, and we are grateful for their holy witness. But if all we did was rejoice, we would find ourselves with an opportunity missed. The recognition of these individuals by the Church affords each of us a prime occasion to take stock of our own lives and consider: Are we travelling the path to holiness? Are we on the road to becoming saints?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (No. 828) states that those individuals who are on the path to sainthood have “practiced heroic virtue and lived in fidelity to God’s grace,” and, as such, they are “models and intercessors” for the rest of us. But what precisely is heroic virtue? Pope Benedict XIV (r. 1740-58) stated that “In order to be heroic, a Christian virtue must enable its owner to perform virtuous actions with uncommon promptitude, ease, and pleasure, from supernatural motives and without human reasoning, with self-abnegation and full control over his natural inclinations.” 

In other words, virtuous living must become second nature. We must become experts at faith, hope, charity, temperance, prudence, justice and courage — not just hitting the mark once in a while, often begrudgingly, but embracing each with joy. This means setting aside our own desires, our own needs and yes, even our own lives, for God and for one another. This is the price of holiness, and the saints know it well.

In this week’s In Focus (online Sept. 17), author David Werning says that living a life of love “boils down to two main commandments: love of God and love of neighbor (Mt 22:34-40).” Father Rother lived by these commandments, as have all those recognized by the Church as having heroic virtue. Safe in the United States for a time before his death, he returned to minister to his people in Guatemala knowing that his life was being threatened. “The shepherd cannot run at the first sign of danger,” he said. Being in the presence of his people was Father Rother’s final act of love. He was murdered weeks later.

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When asked about the Oklahoma priest, Bishop Daniel Mueggenborg, auxiliary bishop of Seattle, stated: “His life makes me ask the questions: Do I want to be holy? Do I want to follow wherever the Lord will lead me? Am I willing to give God my all so as to become all he desires me to be?”

These questions serve as a worthwhile examination of conscience for each of us. Do we want to be holy, or do we talk a good game? Do we want to follow the Lord at all times, or only when it is convenient and comfortable? Are we willing to give God our all, or just a part of our all?

Our challenge is always to say “yes” to the Lord — and then to live out that “yes” daily in word and in deed. It’s not easy. But, as Father Rother and all holy men and women have shown us, it’s what we are called to do.

Editorial Board: Greg Willits, editorial director; Gretchen R. Crowe, editor-in-chief; Don Clemmer, managing editor