We are often faced with the question of how do we live the Gospel in our own complicated lives. How do we live the Gospel as we face our complex messiness of sin and emotions and passions, or deal with that with others; or in complex sometimes violent political situations or a complicated world?
This is actually a question that the Saints can help us to answer. when I was younger, unfortunately, all I knew about a lot of Saints was: “They prayed a lot and were nice to the poor.”
But when we really look deeply into the lives of the Saints, we begin to see different ways people concretely lived the Gospel in a world, a society, a culture that was complex and messy. Many lived in a world of great political strife and a world where there were Church leaders (Popes and bishops and priests), who were at times corrupt, immoral, and unholy.
Saints like Catherine of Siena who lived in a time where there was much political turmoil in Italy; where civil wars and massacres were a regular occurrence; where people of Italy felt abandoned by the Church because the Pope had moved to France. (And later an anti-Pope was elected.)
She gives a concrete example of a way to live the Gospel in complex times.
Or Saints like Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross who saw much laxity, immorality and corruption in the Church during their times, and so give us an example of living the Gospel and working for reform.
Martin De Porres lived in a structure of racism and oppression, yet instead of living out of anger, bitterness, and resentment, he transformed the world around him by his love, humility and pursuit of holiness. Catherine of Genoa was married to a violent and unfaithful husband, and spent several years in melancholic depression. Her life gives an example of struggling through this and eventually Christ breaking into her life in the midst of those struggles. Saint Augustine wrestled greatly with his own sinfulness, especially pride in his gifts and his lust and unchastity. He gives us an example of how God can work in the messiness of our own sinfulness. Mark Ji Tianxiang was a layperson, a doctor, and an opium addict even to the end of his life. He also happens to be a Saint of the Church!
Recently I listened to a podcast episode from “Church Life Today” from Notre Dame University, where Meg Hunter-Kilmer talked about her most recent book, “Pray for Us: 75 Saints Who Sinned, Suffered, and Struggled on Their Way to Holiness.” She did intense research to find stories of Saints that really speak into the struggles people face and experience today. I’m excited to read this book, and I recommend checking it out! (If you happen to purchase it and read it, let me know!)