I admit it was a dirty trick. As I walked into the playroom with an armful of towels and other clean clothes, I enthusiastically asked three of my little girls, ages eight, six and three, “Who wants to be a saint?!”
“I do!” they all shouted, before they saw my unfolded linens. By then they were trapped. Their little faces sunk when they saw what I had in store the scrunched up towels, underwear and socks. “No fair, mommy,” whined Grace, the six-year-old. “You said we get to be saints!” “You do,” I explained, as I dumped my armload at their feet. “Becoming a saint, like St. Théresè said, is doing little things with great love. By offering up your time and helping when you don’t want to, you have the opportunity to do something saintly. Now, let’s fold!”
Lucky for me, they bought it, and scrambled for the pieces of laundry, getting right to work. After awhile, though, the novelty wore off. A couple of the girls meandered to another room, undoubtedly looking for something more “fun.” I pulled them back a couple times to finish the laundry task, and sat down with them to make it a little more endurable. When the last sock was matched and the stacks stood tall, I hugged them and told them how proud I was of them. “Look what a fine job you did,” I praised.
OK, I was sneaky, but God is sneaky too, I thought. Drawn in by great aspirations of being His saints, we enthusiastically pray, “I want to be a saint. Show me how!” and then we are frustrated when He sends a million little discomforts or setbacks or work in our daily lives, not realizing that these are the hills He sets before us to climb, to build up our strength and purify our wills. In doing what is necessary but what we don’t want, we can mortify ourselves and become holy. Jesus said, “If a man wishes to come after Me, he must deny his very self, take up his cross, and follow in My steps” (Mk 8:34). That means every day, from breakfast through bedtime, no matter what our vocations, we have “yeses” to say. Washing dishes can be a means to sanctification. Reaching out to others can make us holy. Getting up early to go to work can help us on our path to heaven. Listening intently to our child when our minds want to rush into other thoughts can help us become saints.
Father Paul O’Sullivan O.P., who wrote the classic book, An Easy Way to Become a Saint, suggested that any ordinary Catholic can become a great saint without doing anything extraordinary. Just by living out one’s vocation to the best of one's ability, and utilizing the opportunities that unfold each day, one can become holy and attain heaven.
A perfect example of this ordinary sanctity would be dear Mrs. Corey, a retired second-grade teacher, a member of our parish, who brought sunshine to everyone she met. I was amazed and humbled the day she stopped me after church and offered to come to my home and read to the children (at that time we had seven). Who was this person? Did she have nothing better to do? Why would she want to come to my home and read to my offspring? I’m so glad I let her come. The calming lilt of her voice mesmerized my children. Did I ever speak that way to them? I resolved then and there that I would from now on. She demonstrated a little thing done with great love.
Three months later it was Christmastime, and Mrs. Corey again stopped me after Mass. “Here is a bit of home-made cookie dough,” she said, pushing bowl of the sweet-smelling dough into my hands. “With so many children I’m sure you won’t have time to make it from scratch this year.” How did she know? I accepted with gratitude another little thing done with great love.
God does invite us all to become saints, and we may heartily reply “Yes” before we know what we’re in for. But we needn’t be afraid that He’ll ask too much. Ordinary tasks done with extraordinary love will do the trick simple, mundane, non-spectacular tasks, like reaching out to others, doing our daily duties well, going to work and yes, simply helping to fold a pile of laundry.
Theresa A. Thomas, wife of David, is a homeschooling mother of nine children, as well as a freelance writer and newspaper columnist for Today’s Catholic. Look for her contribution in Amazing Grace: Stories for Fathers, due out from Ascension Press later this year. This article originally appeared in Today’s Catholic.