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Friday, May 18, 2007

Unknown Saints

I have sensed for a long time that we need to recognize the unknown Saints.

Indeed, on All Saints' Day, we do recognize all the Saints, "known and unknown", but when do we really consider the unknown? During the month of October, we pray especially for the Holy Souls in Purgatory, but they are not yet the unknown Saints.

For your consideration:

There are the known saints...those that were recognized for their sanctity before their deaths: St. Padre Pio (the patron of my family), Bl. Mother Theresa, St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Francis de Sales, etc. There are so many!

There have been many Saints beatified and canonized in our time or in recent times, to include priests, religious, and the laity. From every generation arises spiritual giants that somehow obtain notice, perhaps through a certain act or contact with the general population, and are recognized for their inherent holiness. For some, such as Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati, his acts and holiness were not recognized fully until his very funeral, when his deeds were revealed.

But what of the men and women in cloisters? There may be many who have attained a level of holiness warranting canonization, but for one reason or another are not recognized by the proper authorities as such. That does not mean that God does not recognize them, for as Scripture reveals, God honors what is done in private...while we see what is outward, God sees what is interior, in the heart, and what is hidden has far greater merit than that which is expressed externally.

That doesn't just apply to those who have been chosen to enter a papal enclosure; there are men and women all over the world who live lives of holiness every day, lives of quiet sainthood, asking nothing, giving everything, all for the glory of God.

Isn't it feasible that some of these souls are not recognized, for God has designs for them? For He desires that their works be hidden, part of the mystery of the wonder of Man, of the amazement of humanity, of the holiness of God's divine plan for salvation?

For those who may be skeptical, let me offer a worldly view of what I am saying.

Have you ever watched the Winter Olympics? As I am American, I must focus on the American team, although what I have to say may apply to Canadians as well (mantilla twitch to my Canadian readers out there, ski fans or not).

Have you ever paid attention to where the elite athletes come from? Denver, CO, Park City Utah, Tao, CA, etc. They come from SKI TOWNS. They are raised on the slopes, no wonder they're elite! Then consider a few others...Kristina Kosnik from my backyard, (literally for a year, it was my back yard - Buck Hill, called locally "Buck Bump"), a World Cup winner from Burnsville MN, and her friend from the same area, Tasha Nelson. Both Olympic competitors. But do you know what the latter two had? Great instruction from a skiing great.

This is something MOST people never have access to. When you watch the elite in these sports, you are seeing the privileged. Picabo Street, my skiing hero (not in person, but in ability) had a hippie family that sacrificed greatly upon recognition of her talent, she nearly threw it all away, had a "conversion" and went on to win Olympic medals...grew up in the mountains. The Mahr brothers...grew up in the mountains.

Yes, God placed them there, and yes, free will is always involved, but I have dreamed since I was a child of becoming a world-class skier. Ever since I saw my first race on TV, that's where I knew I wanted to be, but it was not to happen. When I did finally learn to ski, really ski, well into adulthood, I found out I had a certain natural ability, and it took me completely by surprise. While I joked that I was the next Picabo Street, we all knew that was nothing more than a joke, but the sport came so easily, I had to wonder about "what if...?"

As usual, you may be asking what my point is. Be patient. I'm getting to it, but my thought process is much like John Paul II's...we like to take the scenic route. Yeah, it takes longer and causes an increase in perseverance and fortitude just to get through it, but when we're done, we're that much wiser.

Yeah, so I'm not called to be an Olympic Skier. I'll get over it. Really. But in my time on the Ski Patrol here in MN, I've seen many stellar skiers, kids who could be the next big thing...if they are but given the chance. If they lived in the right place. I do think that for some of them, if they were in Colorado or Vermont or California and not Minnesota, they'd be there.

Those, my friends, are the unknowns. Maybe they become great locally, and have the talent, the drive, the ability...but don't get the breaks that take them where they need to go. I agree...all in God's plan, for if He wants them there, they will get there. But maybe God wants them to be REALLY GOOD where they are, ski their hearts out, and find their happiness at Buck Bump in Burnsville, or Wild Mountain in St. Croix Falls, or Welch Village in Red Wing. Maybe they have the talent, and they practice and continue to get better, and if they were to finally get the opportunity to compete at the elite level, this "unknown" would blow everybody away, surprising themselves as well as the world...well...those are the equivalent of the Unknown Saints.

The Unknown Saints are those chosen by God specially to be the hidden firepower of the Church. Yes, the cloistered contemplatives are the backbone of the Church, but the Unknown Saints bolster the backbone and spread out to the hands...the Unknowns are the nervous system of the Church, and we hardly recognize their presence. They walk among us. They live lives like ours. They go to work, they raise families, they live alone as singles...but their hearts are elevated to God alone. They do not live for recognition, but simply live in humility of the Glory of God...and they die like everyone else, have funerals like everyone else, and no one realizes that they are interceding and prayers are being answered because of the unknown Saint.

The Church has a process for formally recognizing Sainthood through a painstaking process. This process does not negate Sainthood, only makes it clear which IDENTIFIED persons have met certain criteria such that they can be declared to be formal residents of Heaven, as opposed to Purgatory. There is still a clause for the Unknown Saints, for they are already recognized by God, or souls released from Purgatory into eternal union with God, or perhaps they are Saints in the early process of canonization. Or they are Saints who walk among us, such as Sister Faustina who experienced the prayers of others while still walking the earth.

For those of you who are still skeptical of the Unknown Saints, I ask you to consider the early Church, and the blood that provided the seed of the Church. The martyrs. Never forget the holy martyrs who died for the faith long before the rhetoric of our current culture of death. I have read accounts of regular men and women, who, in the face of death, stood proudly and claimed themselves to be Christian...even as the Lions drooled. The story of St. Iraneaus comes to mind. St. Justin Martyr. Their deaths were accompanied in that time period with countless others, and we shall never know their names. They are the unknown Saints, and on All Saints' Day, during the Litany of the Saints, and at the Easter Vigil, we recognize them, not by name but by grouping.

What Unknown Saints walk among us?

This weekend, I am going to find a vigil candle to light in honor of the Unknown Saints. I can't seem to find a novena to them so I'll see if the Lord inspires me to pen one of my own. If you know of an existing novena specific to the Unknown Saints, please let me know.

All you unknown Saints of God....pray for us!


Anonymous said...

Yes, the cloistered contemplatives are the backbone of the Church,

I disagree. I think the laity is the backbone of the church.

Odysseus said...

Cloistered nuns and monks are laity, unless they are ordained priests. No nun is a priest, therefore they are all laity. In men's orders, it depends. Somehave a high ratio of priest to laity, some have a lower ratio.

In a sense, you are both correct, since those in the cloisters are laity, and are the spiritual backbone.

Jennifer @ Conversion Diary said...

Ever since you first mentioned this concept a long time ago, I've just been fascinated by the idea of all the unknown saints that are out there.

In fact, wasn't it through praying about this that you discovered the works of Fr. Walter Ciszek? Anyway, because of that post I ended up reading about him as well, and his book He Leadeth Me completely changed my life.

Anyway, thank you for bringing up this great topic.

Melody K said...

Adoro, yes, I think of the "unsung heroes" a lot, too. People like my grandmother (we called her "Nana"). She was a devout Catholic lady who passed the faith on to her family. She also had the gift of radical hospitality; she opened her home and her heart to her pregnant niece, whose husband had walked out on her. She took care of her friend, who was recovering from cancer surgery and had no one to help her at home. She read stories and made chamomile tea for sick grandchildren. These are just a few instances in a life lived in service to others. All of us probably had someone like Nana in our families. We know them as saints, even if no one else does.
And I don't think it matters if a saint is a priest, religious, or lay person; saints are just people who do the work of God in their lives, whatever that may be.

Adoro said...

WC ~ The reality is that the cloistered contemplatives ARE the backbone of the Church...there is not a single moment during the day or night during which they are not praying...for US! For the Church in the world. Thank God every day for them.

The laity is the hands of the Church, we are the eyes, the ears, the hands and the muscle of the Mystical Body of Christ...but the contemplatives are the backbone, and we NEED to recognize that and in turn offer our prayers for them.

You will see that phrase over and over if you are reading things faithful to the Church, for it is commonly understood that this is their role. I'm not speaking my own opinion here in that regard, but I am relaying the status of the Church.

Rob ~ Just for the sake of clear definitions, while yes, nuns, sisters, monks and friars are "laity", they are still separate from the laity for they have given formal vows (different degrees of them), so the correct term for them is "Religious".

I think it's really important that we do not blur the lines between the roles/ states of life within the Church.

Jennifer F. ~ That's awesome! I love his books - glad you do as well. I had forgotten it was a prayer to an Unknown Saint that brought him into my life. Thank you for that reminder.

Melody ~ I'm not talking about the "everyday" person we consider a saint, and I agree with you...there are many. I'm talking about that true level of sanctity attained on earth by Saints such as St. Therese of Avila, St. Catherine of Sienna, St. Therese of Lisieux, etc. They were known as Saints even on earth, but of course no one is formally recognized as a Saint until the process of Canonization is complete. However, the Canonization is but a formal recognition of the Church on behalf of the faithful, confirming that they may be held as an example, confirming they are in Heaven, confirming that what was recognized about them on Earth is really true. I do believe there are true Saints among us that for some reason remain hidden and are not "exposed" even after death. So I'm going deeper here than the everyday Saint (which we shold all be, anyway! LOL - boy, do I fall short even at that!)

Unknown said...

I think Adoro is on to something here.

There are millions, hopefully billions, in Heaven who are not "certified" as being there by the Church. The "unknown saints."

When I reverted and realized that I needed some intercessors in Heaven, inasmuch as I was (and in some respects still am) a spiritual basketcase, I looked for saints who wouldn't be in big demand, who would have time for me.

These millions or billions would be thrilled if they had a specific "project" upon which to work.

And the workload of St Francis of Assisi, the Little Flower, Padre Pio and so many others of the most popular canonized saints would be relieved of some of their responsibilities.

Their appointment books are pretty full right now.

Unknown said...

My Spiritual Director said that there were many saints who are called to live a "humility of obscurity". I have always like that term it speaks well of those I have known in my life who were worthy of undeclared sainthood.

Adoro said...


One thing to keep in mind...God is outside of time. The Saints who have found their union with God are likewise outside of time.

Thus, their "dance cards", as such, are outside of time and will NEVER be full.

Don't fear to trust even in the popular saints because they love you very much and are ready and willing to assist you with their intercession.

It is we who are bound by time.

But I like the unknowns and the "minor" Saints, too. And I'm certain God listens to them just as He always hears us and listens to our prayers, for it is He who inspires our very prayers.

Adoro said...

angelmeg, I like that. "Humility of obscurity."

I LOVE that.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps it is a bit of pseudo ancestor worship but I 'venerate' my grandparents and great-grandparents all the time with regard to contemplating the good lives they lead and asking them to pray for me, and in trying to emulate them. I also tend to project graft the grandfathers onto St. Joseph a bit, right or wrong. I don't do that with Mary, right or wrong she's too holy to lump in with humans I guess because of the whole Immaculate thing.