A few days ago something interesting happened in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. Bp. Robert Finn, may God grant him many and happy years, officially opened the canonical process, the cause of Servant of God Sr. Marie de Mandat-Grancey, a French nun who was a key figure in the recovery of Mary’s house at Ephesus.
Fore more information on Sr. Marie, check here.
For some great photos and the story of what happened in Kansas City – I recommend it – go to SERVIAM.
Here is a shot of the instrument, signed, by which Bp. Finn started the process.
This is the first step in a long process, which resembles the stages of a trial. All manner of evidence is gathered, including documents, testimonies, etc., a case is made, and then presented for the scrutiny of canonists, theologians and other experts.
What are they trying to prove? Initially that Sr. Marie lived a life of “heroic virtue”.
“But Father! But Father!”, some of you are about to say. “Heroic virtue? Really? How can any of us aspire to such a thing! That’s sounds terribly difficult!”
It isn’t easy, but it is possible.
We are all called to be saints. God wouldn’t ask something of us that isn’t possible. And when He asks things that are hard, He also provides the means and the occasions. Even in your suffering, for example, or your obscurity, you can serve Him. God knew you before the creation of the material universe. He called you into being now, in this world. Of all the possible worlds God could have created, He created this world, into which you would be born. He has a plan and purpose your you, if you will embrace it.
Back to the cause and back to “heroic” virtue.
Perhaps we should spend just a moment on what “heroic” virtue is all about. It sounds rather dramatic and, frankly, unattainable by most people.
The term “heroic” comes from Greek (heros). It points to valor, courage. The term “heroic virtue” came into the west with a translation of Aristotle’s Nicomacheam Ethics by Robert Grossatesta (+1253). From there it was brought into the the writings of scholastic philosophers, such as St. Thomas Aquinas. It was more fully elaborated by the amazing Prospero Lambertini, who was elected Pope and took the name Benedict XIV. After that, it became a common term when dealing with saints and causes of saints.
The supreme “heroic” Christian is the martyr, who especially in the moment of martyrdom exemplifies the charity that the Lord taught from the Cross. So, that is a precise act of a Christian. But “heroic” can also be applied to a large arc of a Christian’s life.
Every person is called to live in union with the Trinity, in charity. In this life, we can only strive to live this way. Only in the next life will we truly attain what we were called to. Nevertheless, this life is what we have now. By baptism we became members of Christ and temples of the Holy Spirit, the adopted children of the Father. We can begin to live the life of charity and other virtues now, to the best degree we can with the help of God’s grace. It takes both, our elbow grease (we are not Quietists) and God’s grace (we are not Pelagians).
We live in this fallen world, in this vale of tears, with wounds to our intellects and will, constantly dealing with the world, the flesh and the devil.
We are called to holiness. We are actually called to holiness in a heroic degree. Let’s understand “heroic” properly.
The “heroism” to which we are called does not consist mainly in great or famous or dramatic acts or accomplishments. It might include those, but it does not mainly consist of those. Every person has the possibility of this sort of heroism, even if he does nothing spectacular. When it comes to the causes of saints, very often people with more dramatic or famous lives comes to the attention of others, and therefore they are more likely to be the subjects of causes.
Living a virtuous life even in the tedium of routine or the obscurity of everyday living can be heroic.
Accepting God’s will, living in conformity with God’s will is the true test of a Christian. That is the essence of “heroic” virtue, not what appears outwardly to be heroic (though that may also be heroic, as in the dramatic case of the martyr).
Furthermore, people don’t, except by a rare gift from God, instantly or easily attain the state of living a life of virtue heroically. Virtues are habits. Some virtues, the theological virtues, are infused into us by God with baptism and sacraments. They “dwell” in us “habitually” (“dwell” and “habit” are etymologically related… think of a “habitat” where critters “dwell”). Virtues are habits, good practices and attitudes which are in us to a degree that it is easy for us to do them rather than hard. This usually takes time and maturity. We don’t suddenly, except by a special grace, become virtuous. It can take a whole lifetime and many stumbles along the way.
With God’s help we must strive in the concrete details of our lives to avoid faults and even small imperfections, even if we don’t always succeed. We have to want to succeed and try to succeed and make progress, not giving in to discouragement or, worse, despair, accepting God’s will and going forward with humility.
All the circumstances of our lives play a role in our living as Christians. Each one of us is born into a particular time and place. God gives different gifts to different people. There is no one way to live as a Christian, except for the common calling to holiness. We cannot be, however, content with mere mediocrity.
So, heroic virtue consists mainly in living in the state of grace, hating sin and imperfections and striving to overcome them while carrying out one’s vocation, always accepting God’s will with faith, hope and charity as we go forward during these short years on earth toward the goal of heaven, trusting that God’s providence guides all things. This life may have moments which are dramatic and famous. It will probably be rather plain and obscure. But it is not mediocre.
Those are some thoughts about “heroic virtue”, so that when you hear the term, you don’t fall into the trap of assuming that the person in question was working miracles while alive, or was going without food in a cave for thirty years, or levitating off the ground at the mention of the Holy Name.