According to Catholic teaching, it is no mean feat to be recognized as a saint, requiring a rigorous five-step process, including two scientifically verified miracles that are said to be connected to that person’s intercession.
The diminutive, Albanian-born Mother Teresa has now completed that process and been canonized by the Catholic Church, making her “Saint Teresa of Calcutta,” with special recognition of her years of sacrificial service for the poorest of the poor in India.
In my view, regardless of how one views Catholic teaching and doctrine, Mother Teresa’s selfless example and love for the destitute challenge all of us to live for others rather than live for self. But there’s less a formal perspective, reflected in the language of the New Testament, where followers of Jesus are called hagiois, lit., holy ones or saints. (The Catholic Church recognizes this in its own way, acknowledging that it only recognizes a fraction of the number of possible saints — “saints” meaning “residents of Heaven,” in the Roman Catholic tradition — to whom God has granted His Grace.)
In that broader sense, there are many saints among us, most of whom go unheralded and unrecognized despite their years of sacrifice for the well-being of others.
Here’s my shout out to some of these unrecognized “saints.”
My mother is nearing her 94th birthday and she recently spent more than a week in the hospital, where she was cared for by a team of nurses, doctors, and other helpers. And while all of them get paid for their work, it’s clear that some really love to help the hurting, which truly is saintly service.
Can you imagine changing the diapers of incontinent adults or cleansing the wounds of total strangers or being the first one a terrified patient calls out to in the middle of the night? Most of what they do is anything but glamorous, yet they do it day and night for years, caring for people they have never met before and will probably never see again.
Certainly, there is something saintly about acts of service like that, even if there is a salary connected to that service.
Every day at the hospital, I went out of my way to thank those who were caring for my mom, telling them how much I appreciated their kindness on her behalf.
One of the nurses, a young woman, told me how much she loved her work, and when I asked her why, she explained that if she can do anything to help alleviate her patients’ suffering, anything to make them feel better, she is blessed.
That is a saintly mindset.
I was told the same thing by another young woman working at the independent living home for the elderly where my mom resides. After telling her that the Lord truly appreciates the things she does, she too explained to me that she loves her work, and it makes her happy when she can make them happy, even though they’re not related to her, even though they have little to offer in terms of what they can do for her, even though some of them are hard to please.
She also considered herself blessed to be able to serve those who are often forgotten by society. This is a saintly mindset.
Then there was the physical therapist who began to work with my mom (whose name is Rose), showing her love the same day she met her, laughing with her, jokingly calling her Rosey Posey, and giving my frail little mom a kiss and hug before leaving her room.
Isn’t that saintly?
And what about the foster parents and adoptive parents who bring disturbed kids into their homes for years at a time?What about those who move into the inner cities to help educate troubled young people? What about those local church members who serve faithfully in neighborhood soup kitchens or who mentor fatherless boys and girls? Do we even know their names?
What about the countless missionaries serving around the globe who left lucrative jobs in the States to start orphanages, to combat human trafficking, to feed the poor, to share the good news of Jesus? These are saints in action, even if their names are not famous, even if their work goes unheralded, even if their sacrifices have not been as stark and dramatic as were Mother Teresa’s.
And even as I write these words, I hear some of you saying, “But what about this one and that one? Why did you leave them out? And what about those who serve and give in this vocation and in that volunteer capacity and in this sacrificial way?” Well, that’s the very reason I wrote this article.
I wanted to give my personal shout-out of appreciation to these unheralded saints, and I wanted to encourage you to offer your words of appreciation as well. Who are these nameless people who really practice love of neighbor?
So, as the Catholic Church celebrates the canonizing of Mother Teresa, let us also celebrate the saints among us whose work often goes unappreciated and unrecognized.
Today would be a great day to thank them, to appreciate them, and to recognize them. You can even do it right here in response to this column, honoring those to whom honor is due.