On Patheos, Joseph Sasanka has an article on the classic French biopic Monsieur Vincent (1947) – the story of the life of St Vincent de Paul. This irascable, but dearly loved, saint fought tirelessly for the poor, while plagued by doubts and fears, and while flaying with his tongue those around him he sees as obstacles to his work:
Therein lies the film’s simplest but most important message: Saints are humans, too. As exemplars of heroic virtue worthy of devotion and emulation, their humanity plays a key role in our ability to recognize their sanctity and to follow it. Saints are important precisely because they share the same frailties and failings as we do, not in spite of them. To see their beatitude as some sort of preternatural condition rather than the fruits of relentless self-mortification and struggle would both diminish their spiritual accomplishments and absolve us from the harsh obligation of following in their footsteps. Their imperfections and mistakes do not reduce their effectiveness as role models; they increase it. As humans, they force us to confront ourselves and do things we’d rather not do, and make changes we’d rather not make.
Saints make life hard. But they also make it clear.
There are no cookie-cutter saints, just as there are no cookie-cutter humans. Yet the one trait all the saints share is a relentless drive and desire for sanctity. No matter how long or tortuous their road may have been, no matter how severe their imperfections or how strong the temptations to give up, they never relinquish their pursuit of spiritual perfection. The Church points to that extraordinary focus and singleness of purpose when it proclaims someone worthy of our emulation, not the quality of their administrative abilities or the flawlessness of each action or judgment. “This one,” she says, “is with Him in paradise.”
Let us be careful not to substitute our human expectations and requirements for His own.