When I was little, one of my favorite things to read was a children’s book called “The Life of Mary.” It was small and hardback — the perfect size and texture for my little hands.
The cover was shades of blue, and the vivid pictures on the inside pages told the story of a little girl who seemed pretty normal and pretty special all at the same time. The story focused solely on Mary — the future Mother of God in case you’re not with me — during her early years growing up in Nazareth. Using what I’d now call a healthy dose of imagination, the authors illustrated scenarios that may have been typical in young Mary’s daily life. I soaked up every page — mostly because the pictures were captivating, but in part because I maybe recognized something of myself in this other little girl. The parallels, after all, were staggering.
Mary, always dressed in blue and always veiled, slept on a mat and did her weaving. I, usually dressed in ’80s neons while sporting a very unintentional mullet, slept on a bed and did my coloring. Mary constantly prayed to God and always sweetly obeyed her parents. I sometimes prayed to God and sometimes sweetly obeyed my parents. OK, so maybe the parallels aren’t all that staggering. But, man, did I ever want to be like the little Mary in that book.
And that’s the whole point. The saints are appealing in their relatability. They are men and women who have lived and walked on this earth and know what it’s like. They’ve struggled and sinned (most of them anyway!) and worked hard to seek perfect unity with Christ. In short, as Pope Francis reminded us in a 2013 Angelus address, the beauty of saints is that they are “like each one of us. They are people who, before reaching the glory of heaven, lived normal lives with joys and sorrows, struggles and hopes.”
But what comes next is the key. What sets the holy men and women in heaven apart is that “when they recognized God’s love, they followed it with all their heart without reserve or hypocrisy,” Francis added. “They spent their lives serving others, they endured suffering and adversity without hatred and responded to evil with good, spreading joy and peace. This is the life of a saint.”
What Francis is saying is that it when it comes down to it, the choice of our sanctity rests with us. We must make the decision: to love or not to love. To become saints, we must choose love because, in the words of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, whose parents themselves were canonized Oct. 18, “it is love alone that counts.” That’s what makes you a saint. And it’s love alone that each of us must choose a thousand times each day in a thousand different ways.
That, I think, is what I saw in the pages of that little book about Mary — a young girl who fulfilled all of her everyday activities and obligations with joy and with love. And I pray that I will one day have the courage to be able to do the same.