They Drive Me Crazy, These Living Saints

A few years ago, I published a collection of essays and dedicated it to my husband’s parents, with the declaration, “Saints alive!”

My in-laws, who are not interested in books, looked at the dedication and nodded their heads in the way they sometimes do when they are slightly confused but don’t want to be unpleasant.

“Very nice,” my father-in-law said.

My mother-in-law, more willing to betray curiosity, asked: “What does that mean, what you wrote? What is ‘saints alive’ about?”

“It’s about you and Dad,” I explained. “I thought ‘saints alive’ was cleverer than ‘living saints’.”

“But what does it mean? Why would you put that there?” she asked, still not getting it.

“It means that I dedicate this book — I want to honor you with this book. And it means I think you and Dad are saints, the way you live your lives.”

She made a genuine face of disgust. “Oh, stop!” she said, putting the book down quickly. “Why would you say that? That’s terrible! I don’t understand you sometimes!”

I love these people, and they drive me insane. I love them because they truly are real-time examples of what Christ and the Church tell us we ought to be. They drive me insane because I have tried to do what they do, to be more like them, and I fail, repeatedly.

They possess an instinct to reach out — to consider someone else’s need before their own — that is simply fearless. The charitable impulse that comes as naturally to them as breathing too often makes me feel like I am an eternal trainee, all of my efforts tinged with the hesitancy of doubt.

Dad is the man who never has to be asked to lend a hand when a neighbor is working at a laborious task; he simply shows up with his tool kit, his expertise and his patient genius for reconstruction and renewal. His character and his faith are carried quietly, but powerfully.

When Mom broke her wrist one year before Easter, her great concern was not for her own well-being, but for the people who would be disappointed because she could not bake the goodies she had promised. She is the woman who never fails to send a meal when she hears that someone is sick, or if there has been a death, or even if she just happens to know that a neighbor has been working a lot of overtime.

She’s the first to welcome a newcomer to the area; the first to offer to take care of your pet if you’ve been called away suddenly; the first to visit you in the hospital, always bringing something deliciously homemade for you to eat (“because that hospital food is no good”) and “a little something for the nurses, God bless them, they work hard.”

There is nothing worse for parents, of course, than to face the death of one of their children. When one of her sons died, Mom pushed her own grief to the side in order to give strength to others as they mourned. Throughout his wake, she never sat, moving tirelessly through the crowd of his bereaved friends, hugging them and offering consolation. “It will be all right,” she would say, reminding the young people of all the things we believe: that her son was entrusted to the mercy of God; that he was in glory; that they, and she, would see him again.

Even now, recalling this so many years later, I grow moist-eyed in admiration and awe at how this tiny woman gave such towering witness to the life of faith, and to Christ and to the hope of heaven, all while grieved to her depths.

In this month’s issue of TCA, we read about our Church Fathers, and the canonization process, and the Martyrs of Gorkum — all stories which touch on depths of faith, sacrifice and witness. It’s no wonder my in-laws have come so fully to mind. Father Brian Mullady, writing on justification (Pages 6-9), quotes Augustine: “He did not will to save us without us.”

It is true we must consent to being saved; we must match our “yes” to Christ’s, and to Mary’s, too. These living saints show us how.

Elizabeth Scalia is a Benedictine Oblate, and the Managing Editor of the Catholic Portal at Patheos.com, where she also blogs as The Anchoress. She is also a weekly columnist at First Things and a regular panelist on the the Brooklyn-diocese-produced current events program, In the Arena, seen at NETNY.net. Contact Elizabeth at theanchoress@gmail.com.