The stories of the saints do not appeal to use because of their comfort, but because of their decision to be faithful and good in their discomfort and unhappiness.
The changing of the season and the accompanying sense of nature being in a state of dying, is something that can bring us a sense of sadness, and of futility. Life can at these times feel more like a burden to be carried than a gift to be enjoyed.
Just because we are Christians, does not mean we always feel joy. We thankfully have the hope of a future joy that we’ll have in heaven, being with God and all the saints in a place of light, beauty and infinite love. But that doesn’t mean we feel joy on earth all the time. Sometimes knowing that the future will hold happiness is not enough to help us taste that happiness now.
Interestingly, it is not always thoughts of future happiness that give us strength for the present struggle, and the Church knowing this, offers us instead, true stories of those who have tasted unhappiness and struggle in this life too – the lives of the saints. We tend to think of saints as if they were more angelic than human – and they are often depicted with a halo around their head and a starry look in their eyes. The reality is that sometimes they also felt tired of trying to be good. They had negative emotions, wanted to quit, periodically felt like failures, had family problems, got sick, and didn’t feel like saints. They were human just like us – feeling all the disappointment, misunderstanding and doubt that we do. At the end of the day, they loved God not because they always felt Him near, or had pleasant lives, or enjoyed prayer; they loved God and submitted to His will in their lives because they decided to.
Some of them have remarkable stories, like Joseph of Egypt, who was betrayed by his brothers, falsely accused by the wife of his employer, and then spent years in prison never knowing if or when God would allow him to be freed, or his reputation restored. Some suffered more from the sufferings of their loved ones than their own suffering, like Mary, Jesus’s mother, who had the memory of the agony and violence He went through even after He ascended. Some saints lived in this last century, like Franz Jagerstatter, who was a farmer that refused to be part of the popular, political Nazi movement of his time, and had to subject his wife and family to mistreatment before he himself was killed.
These individuals didn’t feel less unhappiness than we do, and they didn’t find sacrifice and hardship easier than we do – and in turn, we can find strength through seeing ourselves in their company. The stories of the saints do not appeal to us because of their comfort, but because of their decision to be faithful and good in their discomfort and unhappiness. We have the same opportunity during these dry and difficult times in our lives. What may be hidden in history, will not be hidden in eternity. As George Eliot once said, “The growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; [it is] half owning to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.” In the same way, struggling during this life may not feel glorious, but puts us in the company of the unknown heroes that have already gone through this life, experiencing what we do, and deciding to love God no matter how unpleasant their time may be. Because they shared in our weaknesses, let’s try to share in their courage and love. They were authentic humans – let us join them in being authentic saints.
Maria Miravalle is the Spiritual Care Coordinator at Cornerstone of Hope’s Cleveland Location.