Secret of the Saints

Photo credit: Chip Kelsch

By Father Richard S. Jones, chaplain, UPMC Mercy Hospital

One of my favorite patients is a man I’ll call Enzo, a 91-year-old with a full head of hair who emigrated from Italy to West Virginia when he was 25. A widower for more than a quarter century, he still delights in life, expressing great joy recently when a doctor who was born in Italy visited his room and conversed in their mother tongue.

When I asked Enzo for the secret to his longevity, his reply began with his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. No matter where he was in the world, he always found a Catholic church on the Lord’s Day. He remains an usher in his parish.

Enzo loves life, family and friends. He relishes making his own wine. He employed the humble gifts that God endowed him with to follow in the trade of carpentry after the Master Carpenter, Jesus. Enzo once told a group of visitors, “Jesus was a carpenter, and I was a carpenter. He doesn’t need another carpenter in heaven right now, so I guess I will have to pray and wait!”  We broke out laughing.

Enzo embodies the axiom that, in the presence of love, one feels loved. In the end, few will remember what you have done, none will remember what you said, but no one will forget how you made them feel. If we are true followers of Jesus, others will experience love in our presence. In that respect, Enzo is a living saint.

Jesus captured in one pithy sentence the very heart of the Torah (the Jewish law) and all of the Old Testament prophets: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And the second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39).

Our Lord brought together the first three of the Ten Commandments under the commandment to love God, and the remaining seven commandments under the commandment to love our neighbor. When your guiding light is the twofold command to love God and your neighbor, all else comes into focus.

Saints have that kind of single-mindedness. St. Augustine of Hippo said, “What does love look like? It has hands to help others. It has feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of others. That is what love looks like.”

Another word for “love” is “charity,” which is faith made visible in action. Our neighbor is not simply someone on our block or someone we see in church. Our neighbors are also those we don’t see but who are the most in need of our aid:  widows, orphans, the impoverished, the homeless, immigrants, strangers, the forgotten, the neglected. There are to be no limitations or boundaries to love.

All of God’s law and prophets point to the same truth: God is love. God made us in His image to show us His great love. God saved us for eternity out of His great love. Moreover, God commands us to love others out of the love we have received from Him. You cannot argue with love. You can accept it or reject it. You can give it or withhold it. However, our actions do not change the truth of God’s love.

That is the secret of the saints, whom we will honor on November 1. Only if our love is rooted in the love of God will it bear fruit for the salvation of others. Then we will truly love our neighbor as God loves—freely, generously, and without reservation.