The saints ‘next door’

Every Christian has a goal, a longing in their heart, a yearning to become a saint.

Yes, a saint.

It’s not about holding an important office in the ecclesiastical hierarchy or having supernatural gifts (only a few are granted these). Rather, it’s about God calling every person to follow a certain path that, if pursued, will bring out the best of the person. While few saints are actually canonized, the vast majority are, as Pope Francis calls them, “the saints ‘next door,’” those who form part of “the middle class of holiness.” In other words, most are anonymous saints, who with their good works can transform their surroundings, making them more Christian and more human.

This is the main message of Pope Francis’ new Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate (Rejoice and be Glad), published April 9.

Holiness does not consist in pretending to have another’s qualities but about rejoicing in one’s own and glorifying God with them. It can be forged in the activities of daily life, such as abstaining from gossiping, listening to a family member who needs help or talking to a person on the street that is in need.

Yet the fight to reach holiness has two subtle enemies: Gnosticism and Pelagianism. Gnosticism consists in having a faith trapped in subjectivism and interested solely in having a certain religious experience, in seeing oneself as someone greater for having a deep understanding of certain doctrinal aspects, in obliging others to submit to one’s own theories or in using religion “to promote [one’s] own psychological or intellectual theories” and considering the rest of the faithful as nothing more than the “ignorant masses.” But the pope reminds us that true Christian wisdom “can never be separated from mercy towards our neighbor.” It is useless to be a great theologian if these teachings don’t transform one’s daily life.

The second vice, Pelagianism, derives from a heresy that arose in the fifth century, holding that personal effort is sufficient for salvation but forgetting that Jesus calls us first — he “firsts” us (“primerea”), as Pope Francis would say. This vice brings about many bad habits of showing only social and political achievements and boasting about practical matters. “We unconsciously complicate the Gospel and become enslaved to a blueprint that leaves few openings for the working of grace,” the pope says.

Francis refreshes us in his new apostolic exhortation with the much simpler text of the Beatitudes, which stands contradictory to a society that primes individualism and competition. For the pope, this text is the “Christian identity card.” Living with simplicity and meekness, being thirsty and hungry for justice, crying to be consoled, being pure in heart and merciful, working for peace and being persecuted for righteousness are some of the aspects that make a Christian reflect Christ himself.

In the 21st century, we still have many saints that combat evil by living out this beautiful biblical passage – which is translated in attitudes such as joy, patience, apostolic audacity, the formation of communities and constant prayer – making sanctity possible in our day, as Pope Francis highlights in Gaudete et Exsultate. His exhortation that reminds us that “even amid their faults and failings, [the saints] kept moving forward and proved pleasing to the Lord.”

COMING UP: Saint John Institute hosts inaugural graduation

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Regina Ramsey was tired of hearing complaints about what’s wrong with the world and what needs to change within the Catholic Church. She wanted to act.

“I decided that I could either join the people talking about the changes that needed to be made or I could do something about it,” said Ramsey.

That’s when she turned to the Saint John Institute — an MBA program run by the Congregation of Saint John centered on the New Evangelization that helps students develop their gifts to become great leaders in the Church.

“An MBA through Saint John Institute seemed to be the right fit because it combined business knowledge with deep spiritual formation,” said Ramsey.

After graduating from the Saint John Institute with fellow student Brianne Schulze on April 15 — the first students to graduate from the program — Ramsey looks forward to centering her daily life on her Catholic faith. She hopes to one day help non-profits utilize business structures to help them with long-term success.

The Saint John Institute isn’t your average MBA program.

“Our program is different from other MBA programs because of the focus on developing an authentic prayer life and spirituality,” said Father Francis Therese Kratter, the program’s chaplain.

Father Nathan Cromley, president of the Saint John Institute, hands Brianne Schulze her diploma at the inaugural graduation ceremony for the institute April 15. (Photo by Andrew Wright)

“We all know deep down that prayer is what makes our lives fruitful, but we rarely devote the time we know we should to this most important activity,” he said.

The Saint John Institute shapes students through two years of monastic prayer and study, said Father Kratter. He believes the success of current and future students steams from a foundation of prayer.

Students like Schulze were attracted to the program because of that spiritual formation.

“I saw the MBA as a necessary challenge to help me gain the practical business skills I needed to be able to evangelize more effectively through my art,” she said.

Schulze is an artist whose goal was to develop her skills and use them to glorify God.

“Art and beauty point to the eternal,” she said, “and I feel I have a responsibility in creating work that does that — work that gives people an opportunity to encounter Christ through the transcendent power of beauty.”

Schulze was deeply inspired by the Brothers of Saint John, who form the students both academically and spiritually.

“They challenged me in my faith and have helped lead me to Christ in a deeper way than I ever thought possible,” said Schulze.

For more information on the Saint John Institute, visit www.saintjohninstitute.org.