Today (June 9) is the feast of Blessed Anna Maria Taigi. She was one of the most remarkable lay mystics in the history of the Church. Despite being favoured with many extraordinary mystical gifts, and consulted by bishops, popes and even other saints, she kept her feet on the ground, and lived the life of a busy mother in Rome in the 1800′s. In fact, she was so focused on properly fulfilling her duties that she was known to ask God to stop favouring her with ecstacies and other spiritual gifts so that she would not be distracted from her work!
The chief road to sanctity for all of us is found through the careful performance of our daily duties. Perhaps some people are called to extraordinary things, but for most of us holiness will be entirely found within our ordinary life.
Does this mean that we are not called to be great saints, and can instead live a life of mediocrity? Not at all! Jesus tell us that we should strive to be perfect as the Heavenly Father is perfect. Far from a life of mediocrity, this is a life of great holiness. Anyone with a busy job or with a family or other commitments knows just how difficult it is to perform all of our duties as perfectly as possible.
In his work, Meditations and Devotions, the holy Cardinal, St John Henry Newman, outlines a simple path to holiness:
“It is the saying of holy men that, if we wish to be perfect, we have nothing more to do than to perform the ordinary duties of the day well. A short road to perfection – short, not because easy, but because pertinent and intelligible. There are no short ways to perfection, but there are sure ones.
I think this is an instruction which may be of great practical use to persons like ourselves. It is easy to have vague ideas what perfection is, which serve well enough to talk about, when we do not intend to aim at it; but as soon as a person really desires and sets about seeking it himself, he is dissatisfied with anything but what is tangible and clear, and constitutes some sort of direction towards the practice of it.
We must bear in mind what is meant by perfection. It does not mean any extraordinary service, anything out of the way, or especially heroic- not all have the opportunity of heroic acts, of sufferings – but it means what the word perfection ordinarily means. By perfect we mean that which has no flaw in it, that which is complete, that which is consistent, that which is sound – we mean the opposite to imperfect. As we know well what imperfection in religious service means, we know by the contrast what is meant by perfection.
He, then, is perfect who does the work of the day perfectly, and we need not go beyond this to seek for perfection. You need not go out of the round of the day.
I insist on this because I think it will simplify our views, and fix our exertions on a definite aim.
If you ask me what you are to do in order to be perfect, I say, first-
Do not lie in bed beyond the due time of rising;
give your first thoughts to God;
make a good visit to the Blessed Sacrament;
say the Angelus devoutly;
eat and drink to God’s glory;
say the Rosary well;
be recollected; keep out bad thoughts;
make your evening meditation well;
examine yourself daily;
go to bed in good time, and you are already perfect.”
This is also called by St. Thérèse of Lisieux “the little way”, a loving commitment to the tasks and to the people we meet in our everyday lives. She took her assignments in the convent of Lisieux as ways of manifesting her love for God and for others. She worked as a sacristan by taking care of the altar and the chapel; she served in the refectory and in the laundry room; she wrote plays for the entertainment of the community. Above all, she tried to show a love for all the nuns in the community. She played no favourites; she gave of herself even to the difficult members. Her life sounds so routine and ordinary, but it was steeped in a constant and courageous denial of self. It is called a little way precisely by being simple, direct, yet calling for amazing fortitude and commitment.
St Francis de Sales tells us:
A very small virtue may be of greater value in a soul where divine love fervently reigns, than martyrdom itself in a soul where love is languishing, feeble, and dull.
That is the secret: to inject all of our actions with love, doing each simple task to the best of our possibilities Therein lies the value of our actions. Thus, even simple household duties performed with love are of greater value than heroic deeds performed with lukewarmness.