Commonplace Saints: A tribute to mundane sainthood

By Caleb Karnosh

Today the Church celebrates All Saint’s Day, a feast day which may unsurprisingly call to memory particular saints whose holiness, virtues, and acts of service were markedly extraordinary. While it is natural for us to grab hold of stories of valiant triumph and bold self-sacrifice, I have been dwelling on one beautiful truth. On All Saint’s Day we are called to revel in the goodness of God displayed in the commonplace saints of the past and present– those whose names may not appear in church history books, but whose legacy of faithfulness remains vibrantly alive in the memory of God forever. C.S. Lewis enlivens this idea in The Great Divorce.

At the foothills of heaven, Lewis is guided by one of his writer heroes–  a glorified George MacDonald. During their journey, Lewis sees many glorified men and women in their beauty and splendor, but one stands out. He first notices her by hearing her, thinking it is the sound of rushing waters. Spirits go before her and drop flower petals. Joy and beauty flow from her presence. She is surrounded by the children she mothered and the animals she cared for while on earth. Lewis recounts his response to such a sight: 

“Is it?…Is it?” I whispered to my guide.

 “Not at all”’ said he. “It’s someone ye’ll never have heard of. Her name on earth was Sarah Smith and she lived at Golders Green.”

“She seems to be…well, a person of particular importance?”

“Aye. She is one of the great ones. Ye have heard that fame in this country and fame on Earth are two quite different things.”

What I love about this passage is also what I love about All Saints Day: an occasion to remember and give thanks for the average, everyday saints whom we have known and loved. The reality is that, for every “big” saint that we hear and read about, there are multitudes of other saints who have lived quietly, faithful lives to Jesus. 

Today is a day to praise and thank the Lord for these saints while simultaneously asking the Lord that he would give us the grace to follow in their footsteps. Saintliness is not found in fame and success, but in the quiet, mundane, sacrificial faithfulness of an ordinary life devoted to love of God and neighbor. In his story, Lewis was tempted to think that the woman he saw was the Virgin Mary or another mighty saint of old. Instead, he is reminded, as are we, that “fame in this country and fame on Earth are two quite different things.”

Caleb Karnosh is currently serving as the RezYouth Middle School Manager.  In his spare time, he loves searching the shelves of used bookstores, going on walks with his wife Makenna and his sons, Luca and James.

Image above: “The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs” by Fra Angelico  (circa 1395–1455), Italian painter, fresco painter, miniaturist and monk, 1420s, tempera on poplar wood, The National Gallery, UK.

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