THE author of the so-called “Precepts of Contemporary Philosophy” may have been trying to be witty when some years before the war broke out in 1939 he wrote the following comment on sanctity:
“Sanctity: An idealistic word no longer having any more than historical interest. Civil and military society has preserved its heroes; religious society has lost its saints or, if any more of them remain, we no longer hear them mentioned…. The age of great Christian fervor has indeed passed away…. Without wanting to appear sacrilegious, I believe that the Catholic faith would have difficulty finding martyrs thoroughly convinced of their faith and ready to sacrifice themselves for it even to death.”
True, heroic virtue is rare and where it does exist, it makes so little noise! How much real sanctity there is! Sanctity which may never be officially canonized but real just the same: the sanctity of a doctor who spends himself for the love of God and for the suffering members of Christ without counting the cost; the sanctity of a servant who lives her life of obedience and continual renunciation humbly and in a supernatural spirit–multiple types of sanctity, hidden and unknown but effective and a delight to the Heart of God. We should of course like to see sanctity more widespread, but we must not deny what already exists.
Furthermore, opportunities for martyrdom are not of general occurrence, and sanctity adorned by the martyr’s palm is not the only kind of sanctity. As Rene Bazin so truly wrote: “Men do not seem to recognize the sacrifice of life unless it is made all at once.” Martyrdom by the little fires of hidden fidelities constantly adhered to, of tormenting temptations courageously and perseveringly repulsed, of the exact and loving fulfillment of duties toward God and neighbor, of prayer faithfully practiced despite disgust, aridity and the pressure of work–is it not a martyrdom? Who can estimate the value of its countless offerings which are not publicized but which cost . . . and which count!
The amount of sanctity in the world today is not the essential problem; the important question is how much there ought to be, what the needs of the world demand, what the glory of God and Christianity well understood require.
Speaking one day with a group of cardinals, the Holy Father Pius X put this question to them:
“In your opinion, what is the most vital need for the salvation of society?”
“To build schools,” answered one cardinal.
“To build more churches,” suggested another.
“To increase the number of priests,” said a third.
“No, no,” replied Pius X. “All those things are important, but what is most necessary at present is to have in every parish a group of lay people who are very virtuous, very determined, enlightened in their faith and who are true apostles.”
Let us consider now just the two words “virtuous” and “determined.”
The Holy Father said “virtuous”–“very virtuous” and he was speaking of lay people.
Do I belong to that number of virtuous lay people?
“What luck not to be a saint!” Doctor Vittoz of Lausanne used to say, “For then I can exert myself to become one!”
Pius X had good reason to add the word “determined” to the word “virtuous.”
Is my resolution to reach high sanctity resolute, determined?