Have you ever received gifts or trinkets growing up that you continue to keep for sentimental or nostalgic value? Something a family member or a friend gave you on a birthday or for a special event that remains on prominent display in your home?
As a child, that memento for me was a prism that my scientific-minded aunt presented me for my 8th birthday. Such as simple, but intriguing item. I kept it on my bookshelf for many years until unfortunately it got lost in a move during my early adult years. While that particular prism is gone, I still reflect (no pun intended) on the awesome light tricks, such as bending rays of light and creating miniature rainbows, my splendid spectrum-forming crystal helped in forming simple and joyful memories with my siblings. Since lacking a physical prism, I still use a metaphorical prism as a perfect analogy for explaining how diversity (of light) can be reconciled into a focus of unity.
The word diversity tends to invoke sudden reactions from people. Perhaps it is due to a hostile political environment or maybe it is because various entertainment sources poke fun at striving for differences of thought (refer to The Office Season 1 Episode 3: “Diversity Day”). Even within my own workplace I hear co-workers scoff or grumble at the idea of recognizing differences in opinion, culture, thought, or belief. Oftentimes, failure to identify the good that people’s differences can bring for the greater good lead to hostile environments, bullying, fractured relationships, and promote self-centered tendencies.
Focusing on the ugliness of the differences in the trees leads to us missing out on the beauty of the forest when viewed all together—in unity. As a person who struggles mightily with change and a fervent desire to maintain consistency throughout the day, week, and year, I oftentimes fail to see how differences can promote unity.
Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount, urges his followers, “You are the light of the world” (Matt. 5:14). Just as light is separated into the color spectrum when viewed through a prism, so too are Christians emboldened with various gifts (hues) of charisms to spread the Good News to the darkest parts of the rest of the world. Only unified through the light of Christ may the saints provide various ways to communicate the Gospel. According to St. John Paul the Great, “Unity not only embraces diversity, but is verified in diversity.”
The Catholic Church teaches various paths to holiness exist. According to the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium,
“All the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status are called to the fullness of the Christian Life and the perfection of charity; by this holiness as such a more human manner of living is promoted in this earthly society” (no. 40).
In other words, no matter one’s vocation (ordained, married, religious, or consecrated life), all Christians are charged with walking a life of virtues and holiness.
I will not spend too much time on saints who received the sacrament of Holy Orders as the more famous saints that come to mind were priests, deacons, or bishops. According the Catechism of the Catholic Church,
“Since the beginning, the ordained ministry has been conferred and exercised in three degrees: that of bishops, that of presbyters, and that of deacons. The ministries conferred by ordination are irreplaceable for the organic structure of the Church: without the bishop, presbyters, and deacons, one cannot speak of the Church” (1593).
Saints that immediately come to mind who received the sacrament of Holy Orders include the following (not even close to an exhaustive list): Sts. Peter, Augustine, Athanasius, Gregory the Great, Stephen, John Paul II, Francis of Assisi, Francis de Sales to name only a few.
The vast majority of the Catholic faithful consists of married couples and their families. However, when I was researching for this article I could not think of any married saint immediately off the top of my head. Perhaps it is because marriage is more commonplace than Holy Order. Otherwise, I think somehow with the recent push in modern society to redefine marriage, the diversity between a man and woman in the Mystery of the sacrament of Matrimony has been lost in our culture. Not everything in marriage needed to be reduced to sameness between the spouses. If that happens a little bit of the Mystery may disappear. I am meant to explore and learn about my wife on a daily basis (actually all spouses in a sacramental marriage are called to). I am not meant to have her completely conform to my image or me to her image. Diversity leads to unity.
Here is a list of a few married saints to provide a good witness for family life: Sts. Louis and Zelie Martin (more famously known as the parents of St. Therese of Lisieux), Monica (mother of St. Augustine), Elizabeth Ann Seton, and parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary—Joachim and Anne.
Individuals not called to receive the sacrament of Holy Orders or Matrimony, often go on to live out the vocation of the religious life. The Catechism states the following about this vocation,
“Religious life derives from the mystery of the Church. It is a gift she has received from her Lord, a gift she offers as a stable way of life to the faithful called by God to profess the counsels. Thus, the Church can both show forth Christ and acknowledge herself to be the Savior’s bride. Religious life in its various forms is called to signify the very charity of God in the language of our time” (926).
Saints who lived out this lifestyle provides an impetus to the Church in times of slow growth or decline. Among the saints who lived out their religious vocations include: Sts. Benedict, Teresa of Avila, Dominic, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Maria Faustina, and Therese of Lisieux.
The fourth and final vocational path to holiness is known as the consecrated life. Such individuals do not receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders, Matrimony, nor life in a religious community. Misinterpreted a miscellaneous catch-all category for individuals either indecisive or uncommitted to the other ways to holiness, the consecrated life is a valid, and essential vocation still needed to help the Church at large! The Catechism reads highly of this vocation,
“The state of life which is constituted by the profession of the evangelical counsels, while not entering into the hierarchical structure of the Church, belongs undeniably to her life and holiness” (914).
This vocation in particular affords individuals a certain freedom, not enjoyed by the other vocational paths. People living out the chaste and consecrated life exist in the world to share their unique gifts that married persons such as myself am limited due to my pledge to raising my children in the faith as a primary focus.
Saints who lived out this fourth path to holiness include (but are not limited to) the following: Sts. Agatha, Lucy, Agnes, Catherine of Siena, and Joan of Arc.
According to Lumen Gentium, By divine institution Holy Church is ordered and governed with a wonderful diversity.
“For just as in one body we have many members, yet all the members have not the same function, so we, the many, are one body in Christ, but severally members one of another” (32).
While the ever relatable analogy of the Body and its individual parts testify to the truth of the unity of the Catholic Church in spite of its diverse members, I find that the analogy of the light and the color-spectrum also provides an interesting view on this seeming tension between unity and diversity. Along with my gift of a prism, I enjoyed looking at kaleidoscopes. Despite, the various, and ever-changing of the colors, shapes, and designs of that toy, the beauty would be lost without having light to shed brilliance on the kaleidoscope. In a similar way, the uniqueness, diversity, and individual excellence of the saints would all be in vain unless viewed through the prism of Jesus Christ—then the brilliance of the light of truth maybe be seen as a beautiful rainbow of holiness as well!