Two different kinds of saints

I’ve always had a huge devotion to hermit saints. The desert fathers, St Mary of Egypt (who is one of my favourites!), Discalced Carmelites, St Charbel Maklouf, St Simon Stylite, etc. I totally get their asceticism and am very drawn to their example.

Don’t worry, I’m not about to go live on the top of a very tall pillar for the rest of my days. :stuck_out_tongue:

But I am drawn to their mortification. For me, this mortification is only interior though. Like custody of the eyes, not allowing myself to refuse forgiveness, not allowing myself to dwell on unholy things, stuff like that. No bodily penances beyond the regular fasting that all Catholics are bound to do.

But I also have an intense admiration for Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati. Such an awesome person! For those who aren’t aware of him, he was an Italian born in 1901 into a veeerry wealthy family. His parents were atheists and he was expected to grow up and marry a rich girl and take over his father’s news paper business. While he was a teenager/young adult he would secretly use his allowance to buy food/medicine for the poor. He still went to parties with his friends and was known to be very fun, goofy, etc but he was also known to never drink more than one drink at a party whereas others were drinking too much. When he wanted to say grace before meals, instead of shaming his atheist parents he would pause before entering the dining room and say grace privately by himself, then go in and join his family for the meal. He would go on hiking/skiing trips with friends and would pay a priest to come along so he would never miss Mass, and if a priest couldn’t be found to come then he simply would not go on the trip. He would wake up reaaally early to go to daily Mass without his parents noticing, and when he would play games with his friends he would say that if they won he would give them money and if he won they would have to go to Adoration with him. He ended up catching polio from one of the impoverished persons he visited and died at the age of 24.

So Bl Pier Giorgio and the hermit saints are very different. In my mind, all these saints are so cool but I’m wondering which way of living is better. Or maybe thinking of one way as better is wrong, because what is best for a person is simply what God calls him to and so one way of living is not necessarily better than another in itself. I realize that God lead’s souls down different paths because we all have different backgrounds, gifts, capabilities, etc but the way Bl PG and the hermit saints were lead are so very different!

I don’t think comparing lives (especially of the saints!!) is productive. There is no “better” way to be holy. We each have our own gifts and circumstances and choices. Best to focus on living the best possible version of OUR life.

If comparing our lives to those of the saints were unproductive then you are accusing the Church of a rather futile endeavor. One of the best things she does is canonize saints throughout history and then unceasingly venerate them, celebrating and retelling the events of their life and the facts of their personal sanctity, and why does the Church do this for us? Well, the primary purpose is to give glory to God, but the secondary purpose is intertwined with that aim, and that is to lead us all to perfect holiness and toward sainthood ourselves. It goes without saying that we can never enjoy an identical life to our favorite saint, but that is not to say that we have no hope of emulating them, of re-enacting their heroic works of faith and virtue, and of gaining Heaven ourselves. If we are particularly blessed then someone after our death will open a Cause for us and make the case for our own canonizations.

For Confirmation, I took a patroness of Katherine of Alexandria. What did a 30-something man in the year 2000 have to do with a Virgin Martyr of the early Church? Surprisingly many things. Primarily, I admired her courage and skill in debating and converting pagans. That was a key facet of her life I wanted to imitate. Many other things went into my decision, but if nothing else about her had influence over my life, then that one thing would be enough.Would that I had enough courage to defend my chastity and meet my martyrdom in such a violent manner, that remains to be seen. But I draw my strength daily from a cadre of powerful saints interceding for me near Our Lord in Heaven, and no Catholic would be the same without them.

To anyone who has not read his material, I would suggest Matthew Kelly’s “The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic” and “Rediscover Catholicism”. Kelly advances a powerful case for emulating the saints in order to grow in personal holiness, or what he calls the-best-version-of-yourself. We cannot achieve that if we do not have role models. The saints of the Catholic Church are bright reflections of the Holy Trinity and when you assemble the correct picture, they unfailingly point the way toward Heaven. That is precisely why we venerate and commemorate and celebrate all their lives in our liturgy and in our culture until Christ comes again in glory.

Traditionally, the Church speaks of two vocations- the contemplative life, and the active life. Pretty much all the saints agree that the contemplative life is a ‘higher state’, but this doesn’t mean it is always ‘better’ or ‘suitable’. The active life comes to an end with the death of the body- the contemplative life continues in Heaven.

Now, the traditional teaching also hold that any religious life necessarily contains elements of both- even the Carthusian does some service or work, even the most active missionary is involved in prayer and meditation.

So, it is not really help to say which is ‘better’, so much as to consider what vocation is suitable to you at this time. But remember, it is very difficult for non-Christians (and even many Christians) to understand the value of the contemplative, eremetic or monastic life. But, ultimately, all human activity, the whole universe, in fact- has as its purpose and end the contemplation of God- so what could be more ‘useful’ than such a life?

With regards to discerning God’s will, St. Veronica of Giuliani offers the following advice, which will help us to become saints:

“… in order to pray well, the soul must prepare by seeing that the Will of God alone exists in her. When we are thus stripped of self and desirous of doing God’s will, this Divine will is made known within us when we begin to pray. A short time spent in this state of perfect conformity will free us from every obstacle and make known to us the real way to live. In this way we learn all the virtues; we learn the nature of the things of this earth; we learn to hate created things; we desire only crosses and troubles; we seek only contempt and humiliations; we gain a true knowledge of ourselves; we discover our smallest faults and find the means to correct them.”

“I would rather lift a straw from the ground by the will of God, than raise a hundred dead men to life by my own will.” - St. Crescentia

God bless.

It didn’t even occur to me that part of the reason for the vast differences in the lives of hermits vs the lives of saints to Bl Pier Giorgio Frassati is a contemplative vs active vocation. I suppose I didn’t think of it this way because none of them are religious. Well the Discalced Carmelites are religious and St Charbel was a maronite monk but otherwise the desert hermits predated monasticism. And Bl PG Frassati was a dominican tertiary.

Amen. Loving this quote.

I suppose the interior life of these saints have their similarities. Certain things come along with a high level of sanctity no matter what a person’s vocation is. Like a very generous love and also detachment. But detachment can be painful, can’t it? I don’t mean that it hurts to distance ourselves from the stuff we put between ourselves and God, but in the sense that to be in the world and to know the proper use for things, to know that all that is around us will eventually burn and that all that really matters is souls, to have your eyes on eternity, can be painful when living a lay vocation. Sometimes I wonder how Bl Pier Giorgio Frassati did it! He lived in such a wealthy home and went to parties and on ski trips and all these things that young people do. But surely he didn’t actually care about the wealth or the parties or whatever, I’m guessing he did them because he loved God’s people and these activities are where he found God’s people. So he went to these things and loved people where they were at. Not that he was above such worldly affairs, but just that he was surely detached from them. Because to be attached to God is to be detached from the world. Surely saints in both types of vocation, active and contemplative, whether they be lay or religious, long for God so much that at times it actually hurts and it would cause much suffering to not be able to go devote oneself to prayer.

Like St Francis of Assisi. I don’t actually know too too much about this ever popular saint, but my understanding is that he desired with all his heart to live a contemplative life like St Claire did but couldn’t because it simply wasn’t God’s will for him. How much that thirst for prayer would have hurt.

I don’t like severe mortifications at all

I think people who do great mortifications are just trying to be better than other people

they are proud

I don’t know about the interior life of this saint so I can’t comment on his feelings/thoughts. However I do know that no matter what you are doing you can offer it to God and share it with God - the laughter, the joy, the company of others, the good job you are trying to do - anything and everything can be offered to Him for His glory alone (all that is good, true and beautiful that is). And in that, no matter what you do, everything is immensely valuable. In fact, anything that is not offered to God, has very little value whatsoever. Therefore, I am sure that is what this Saint did.

There’s a story of a desert hermit who was very prideful and wanted to prove his holiness to the other hermits living near him. In a vision or a dream, a devil in disguise told him that to prove himself he should throw himself down a well and because he is so holy God would save him. So the hermit did just that, he threw himself into a well. Soon after the other hermits found him, hauled him out of there, and the proud hermit died a few days later. It was said that that hermit didn’t pray a day in his life and not a single one of his penances were pleasing to God.

I think for some people it is about pride. But for others it is something they do because God has given them the gifts and graces to do it. They wouldn’t have been canonized if they were spoiled by an intense amount of pride and vanity. St John the Baptist was a desert dwelling, hair shirt wearing, locust eating ascetic. Jesus Christ spent 40 days in the desert. St Francis of Assisi left his worldy life by giving away everything he had including the clothes he was wearing and went off to live as a hermit for a long time until eventually God called him to do something else. Asceticism and mortification are just part of the spiritual life. Some people are called to live with more penances than others, and of course if someone feels called to live a life more…austere… then a good spiritual director is needed.

Yeah but there are certain aspects to the spiritual life that if a person didn’t have then they would not be saints. Like prayerfulness, detachment, deep love for God and neighbour, obedience to the Church, etc.

Thanks for your insight tangerines

I do know that penances are necessary to effect conversions

I believe Our Lady has often asked people to do penance in order to obtain conversion of poor sinners

I suggest you speak to a spiritual advisor. He can help you determine what your calling is and the appropriate means of carrying it out.

Some people apparently are called to mortification, but since it can be done out of pride or the wrong mind set, it is important for those people to be followed and advised by a priest, and they must commit obediance in those matters to their confessor.

This isn’t about me, it’s about the spiritual life in general. I’m thinking about these two very different paths to holiness and wondering why and how they are equally good. There are a lot of people who just don’t understand mortification and contemplative prayer let alone living in a cloister or out in some desert. (Of course, the cloister is meant to be a way to make it possible to live in a desert without actually going out into the middle of nowhere. Instead of going far away from everyone, you put up walls around yourself and end up with the same separation.)

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