If you went to Catholic grade school, you probably got a few of them along the way as rewards for achievements. If you’re not familiar with them, let me explain:
A holy card is kind of like a baseball card. There‘s a depiction of a person on the front. Instead of batting or pitching statistics on the back, there’s a prayer or maybe some detail about the particular saint’s life.
And the saint is always depicted as perfect. In every way.
Gorgeous hair, even though there was no hair product or rinse-and-repeat back in those days. Radiant complexion _ not a scar or zit anywhere. Immaculate clothes, free of any stain or wrinkle or frayed edges.
How does that happen?
And the saint invariably sports a peaceful, other-worldly expression, even if they’re about to be burned alive or fed to the lions. (I don’t know about you, but if I was about to get char-broiled or turned into a snack, I certainly wouldn’t be peaceful. And my clothes wouldn’t be unsoiled.)
Whether it’s on holy cards or stained glass or paintings by the masters, the people we consider saints usually get turned into symbols of perfection. Holy from their hair to their hemlines.
And that’s wholly a crock.
A saint isn’t someone who’s perfect. A saint is someone who tries.
Ideally, that’s all of us.
A saint is you. A saint is me.
Saints are messy and confused and disoriented, like everyone else. Their lives take unexpected turns. They do embarrassing things. They’re insecure and needy. They have lots of baggage. They wake up at 4 a.m. and worry. They look in the mirror and say, “Really?!?“
What they do, though, is try. Really try.
They put their messy little selves into every moment as much as they can. They try to make a difference, to do something good and useful with their lives. They open themselves to love. They work at growing into their best self.
And yeah, our neediness and self-centeredness get in the way. We all screw up, even when we give it our best shot. Our insecurity and fear hold us back. We say the wrong thing sometimes, make the wrong choice at times.
What matters is that we keep asking for a little guidance and inspiration and courage. And that we keep trying, even when we’re discouraged and unsure exactly what to do.
In those times, it helps to have a little faith that something divine and unexpected will emerge from the messiness, like a beautiful plant poking out from muddy ground. We trust someone else to make the blossoms appear.
We set out to become our true selves a little bit more each day. Our loving selves. Our compassionate selves. Our forgiving selves. Our joyful selves. Our coffee-stained selves. Our split-endy selves. Our awkward selves.
Instead of air-brushing away our imperfections and Photoshopping our shortcomings, we ought to highlight them and make them stand out. Depict them in stained glass.
Show what sainthood is really about.
Yes, it’s that easy. And that hard. The bar for sainthood is very low, and very high. It’s about putting our love and ourselves into every moment, no matter how messy we happen to be at that moment.
Even when we’ve just dumped a plate of potato salad in our lap. Or said the wrong thing. Or felt our heart sink over some bad news. Or looked in the mirror and recognized a zit forming on our forehead.