There’s a Saint for That (A Brief Reflection)
One critique that some groups of non-Catholics rail against Catholicism that there are saints for very obscure or mundane purposes. Think of Saint Ambrose of Milan, the brilliant 4th century theologian who is the patron saint of beekeepers, or Saint Isidore of Seville, who anachronistically became the patron saint of the Internet in 2003. Why have saints for such small things, or designate saints to technologies they did not even use? There’s quite literally a saint for everything.
So why so many saints? It’s not that the Catholic Church has become so outdated that it is seeking to remain relevant in any way that it can. Rather, there’s a saint for almost every job or status because each and every vocation can become a path towards holiness.
Since I left behind the academic world, I no longer label myself a theologian (unless we want to use the definition of a theologian as articulated by Evagrius Ponticus, that a theologian is one who prays), historian, or a scholar. I no longer labor from within the walls of the ivory tower. My work now is that of a housewife, a runner, and a writer/blogger.
There can be despair for some in ordinary work. Am I really doing God’s work if I am not writing great theological tomes, saving lives in Africa, or ministering to students on a college campus? And if so, how do I know my work is actually fulfilling God’s will, and not just indulging my own selfish desires?
Because there’s a saint for that. Or, more specifically, saints for each vocation in which I engage.
Saint Martha of Bethany often gets the short end of the stick, in my opinion, in how many people represent her. All too often, people interpret the scene of Jesus at Mary and Martha’s home in Luke 10 as a condemnation of work. While Saint Thomas Aquinas does uphold the contemplative life as more excellent than the active life, he also asserts that the active life is conducive to the contemplative life (see Summa Theologiae, IIa-II, question 182, article 3.) While Jesus praises Mary for her contemplation of him, Martha still is serving the Savior. She prepared the house so that he could comfortably relax and dine, and the Catholic tradition recognizes her as the patron saint of housewives. The work of the housewife, much like the work of Saint Martha, is a selfless labor, a tiresome labor (although made much easier with modern inventions), yet still a labor that can serve the Lord.
While we could allude to Saint Paul’s words of running the race, there’s another saint who demonstrates that the athletic life can be a path of sanctity. Saint Sebastian, whom is frequently depicted with arrow wounds due to the nature of his martyrdom, is the patron saint of athletes, particularly endurance athletes. Saint Sebastian was a Roman soldier and a Christian who was known for his physical endurance. Legend has it, even, that after being short with numerous arrows, Sebastian survived and returned to good health (and then was beaten to death later by the Roman Emperor).
There’s a saint for each imaginable occupation because God calls us all to work for his glory and the betterment of his kingdom, regardless of our background, status, or gifts. In fact, as Saint Paul alludes to in 1 Corinthians 12, God created us each with different talents and abilities for the same reason our body has different members: to work together towards a greater purpose, which none of us could accomplish individually. Engineers (Saint Patrick), librarians (Saint Catherine of Alexandria), beer brewers (Saint Augustine of Hippo), comedians (Saint Vitus), and all vocations all serve God. As the saints demonstrate, it is not the occupation itself, but rather the one doing it that sanctifies work and serves God.