A day I will never forget is when I walked in on my parents watching a movie about St. Thérèse of Lisieux. That movie begins with a simple line, taken from Thérèse’s writings: “I want to be a saint.” I didn’t know that you could want that, but now that I knew, I wanted it! The problem was that I had unusual ways of pursuing that desire. For example, St. Thérèse died at the age of twenty-four of tuberculosis. As a result, every time I left a physical, I would leave disappointed because my tuberculosis test would come back negative. Long before I turned twenty-four, I realized that my life would look different, but that did not mean that I gave up my desire to become a saint.
In the Second Reading, St. Paul writes, “And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, receiving the word in great affliction, with joy from the Holy Spirit, so that you became a model for all the believers.” We are called to imitate the saints and Jesus so that we can become a model for others.
It does not mean we have to imitate the concrete details of every saint’s life. As we approach the Solemnity of All Saints on November 1st, we have different opportunities to enter into the lives of the saints, such as the Saints Around the World event on October 28th. As we look at all these saints, we see how different their lives are, but also how they all have one thing in common: love of God and love of neighbor.
In each of the saints, this love shone out in ways as unique as each one of them, and that is what we are called to imitate. Just as they made Jesus’ commandment to love take flesh amid the concrete details of their lives, so are we called to love amid the concrete details of our lives. But we can’t keep this to ourselves.
In the Gospel, Jesus says the greatest commandment of the law is to love God and to love our neighbors. At the Last Supper, Jesus takes this even further by giving us a new commandment: “Love one another as I have loved you.” Because we have received the love of Jesus that led Him to the Cross, we are called to love others with that same love. This might seem daunting, but when we look at the saints, we see that it has been done thousands of times and thousands of different ways.
Loving as Christ loves does not necessarily mean dying of tuberculosis at the age of twenty-four, but it means taking the love we have received from Christ and making it present to others. Pope Francis wrote in C’est la Confiance, his Apostolic Exhortation on St. Thérèse, “In the heart of Therese, the grace of baptism became this impetuous torrent flowing into the ocean of Christ’s love and dragging in its wake a multitude of brothers and sisters.”