Don’t think you have what it takes to be a saint? Think again

A detail from Fra Angelico’s Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs (c 1423-24)

Having recently blogged on saints for the family, another book about saints had now landed on my desk. Titled Inspiration from the Saints by Maolsheachlann O’Ceallaigh and published by Angelico Press, it brings a heartfelt personal touch to the subject. Indeed, in his introduction the author confesses that he was led to consider the saints because he was so fascinated by horror films. If readers fail to see an immediate link, there is one: the horror genre is “otherworldly”, as the author puts it; a great attraction for Hallowe’en and its ritual summons to the dark side brought him eventually face to face with the reality of the “Hallowed”, celebrated the day after: All Saints Day.

More or less an atheist until his early 30s, O’Ceallaigh began to realise that “my deepest hunger was for the sacred – for God”. His book concerns the special virtues of particular saints, so chapter headings include “boldness”, “mortification”, “chastity”, “mirth”, “death” and so on. Naturally, there is a lot of overlap; saints tend to exhibit several virtues at the same time. Thus the Italian mystic St Gemma Galgani crops up in several chapters, as does St Josemaria Escriva and St John Paul II.

There is even a chapter on “Losers”. All the saints, by definition, are humble and have a low opinion of themselves, yet a few of them were so unsuccessful in life or in their chosen vocation that they have come down to us as failures, humanly speaking. They include St Joseph of Cupertino, rejected by the Franciscans and the Capuchins for his unsuitability but whose evident sanctity led him to levitate in a spectacular way; the Cure of Ars, who could barely cope with the academic aspect of the seminary; and St Benedict Joseph Labre, who struggled with severe depression.

Blessed Bartolo Longo, born in 1841, actually became a Satanist, while Blessed Charles de Foucauld described himself as “all egotism, vanity, impiety, with every desire for evil – I was, as it were mad.” St Maximilian Kolbe, although suffering from recurring ill-health, spent all his energy upon improbably ambitious apostolic enterprises. Why did he seem in such a hurry? O’Ceallaigh responds, because Kolbe understood that “Each of us has only one lifetime to say “yes” to Christ. Millions of men and women are passing through the portals of birth and death every day; it is these men and women…whom we are called to lead to their Saviour. Tomorrow may be too late.”

GK Chesterton, larger than life and bursting out of his waistcoat, fills the appendix. The author notes that although he fulfilled his Sunday and Holy Day obligations, “he seems to have rarely gone to Mass other than that. He went to confession once a year when his wife pushed him to it”. On the other hand, “he would make the sign of the Cross with his match before lighting a cigar.”

GKC seems quintessentially English, as does Blessed John Henry Newman – meaning not given to mystical experiences or ecstasies. Indeed Newman provides wonderfully temperate advice on the attainment of sanctity; it includes not lying in bed in the morning, visiting the Blessed Sacrament, praying the Angelus and the Rosary, and getting to bed in good time. He directs people to “eat and drink to God’s glory” – something Chesterton would have instinctively understood.

I heartily recommend this book to those who think that saintliness is not for them or that they could never emulate the Saints; they merely have to “become who they are”, as John Paul II used to say.