How I Fell Out of My Minivan and into My Identity
And when it came to marriage, some saints were happily married, such as St. Margaret of Scotland, some had difficult marriages, such as St. Monica, some were separated from their husbands like St. Radegunde and St. Etheldreda, and some, like St. Helena, were divorced. .
Of course, all the female servants of God throughout the ages lived in quiet, orderly environments that were perfectly conducive to prayer, right? This was impossible for women like me with large families. But then I encountered St. Jeanne de Lestonnac who ran her estate by herself after her husband died, in addition to raising five children. St. Margaret of Scotland and St. Bridget of Sweden each had eight children, and St. Joaquina Vedruna had nine.
By now my stereotypical thinking was in full retreat, including the notion that the saints were happy all the time. I learned that St. Catherine of Genoa battled severe depression for years, and I was as surprised as the rest of the world when it became clear that Mother Teresa heroically endured fifty years of the "dark night of the soul." Even super-saint Therese of Lisieux went through a final period of intense interior darkness before her death.
C.S. Lewis once observed, "How monotonously alike all the tyrants of the world, how gloriously different all the saints." I had to agree. When I took a fresh look at real Christian holiness, this is what I found: Diversity. Uniqueness. People of all different temperaments and lifestyles, with a wide array of personal strengths and weaknesses.
Lumen Gentium specifically praised the different forms that holiness can take, noting that the Holy Spirit "distributes special graces among the faithful of every rank," and that "by these gifts He makes them fit and ready to undertake the various tasks. . .which contribute toward the renewal and building up of the Church." He praised the Church for having a "wonderful diversity," where "each individual part contributes through its special gifts to the good of the other parts and of the whole Church.
In other words, there is not a one-size-fits-all template for being a good Catholic. I didn't have to ape women like my friend Teresa in order to live my faith to the fullest.
It was time to take another look at what Catholic womanhood might mean for me.
Discovering Your Unique Type of Holiness
I threw myself into this quest, reading everything I could find on the subject and consulting confessors and a spiritual director. This is what I learned: to uncover your unique brand of holiness you have to sift your God-given quirks and talents from your sins. So, for example, I shouldn't feel bad about the fact that I'm the type of person who sometimes ends up stumbling out of the car window at church. God gave me a brain that drifts toward quirky ideas. Instead of bemoaning that, I should ask how I can use that unique characteristic to do his work. But my occasional use of profanity and tendency to complain about everything? Those should go.
I began to carefully discern the areas where sins and quirks collide, such as my relationship with housekeeping. I'd embraced the fact that with my scatter-brained nature, I'm not a naturally gifted homemaker; my house is never going to look like something out of a lifestyle magazine. But it was also clear that sometimes the sin of sloth was at work when I neglected to keep my living space clean. Taking this to confession, I received the grace to begin to reject my slothful behavior while still accepting my God-given nature.