We all have our favorite saints that inspire us, but admittedly, sometimes it can feel daunting when we compare ourselves to these holy men and women, especially when we fall short of living a life of virtue and holiness. When living out the faith is particularly overwhelming for you, look at these relatable saints to find some inspiration to keep going.
St. Joseph of Cupertino
Dull, slow learning, absent-minded, awkward and clumsy. You wouldn’t think these are words to describe a future saint. But this is exactly how people described St. Joseph. Even his mother thought he was a nuisance since he couldn’t work. He thought, perhaps, he might make it as a friar with the Franciscan monastery in Cupertino, Italy. However, they wouldn’t accept him because of his lack of education. Eventually, his mother finally got him accepted at the monastery only for him to fail, be rejected and sent away to wander as a beggar. He eventually returned and offered to work as a servant in the stables caring for the monastery mule and other animals. Being given such lowly tasks humbled Joseph even more and made him very happy. He was made to sleep on a plank in the stable and never complained. He did dirty work with joy and even laughter when things didn’t go right or he made a mistake. His brother friars took notice of Joseph and how he seemed respected, especially by the poor. While his oddities and clumsiness would bother many of the friars, others gravitated towards him and it was discussed if he should be considered to study for the priesthood.
Although he was a very poor student, by God’s providence Joseph eventually was ordained a priest at the age of 25. He was still the same simple man he was before he was ordained, but he started to receive the gift of visions. He would get so caught up that it would take an order from his superiors to bring him back down to reality.
Then he began to levitate during prayer and while saying Mass. These ecstasies attracted so many people that the friars had to transfer him several times to be secluded and hidden away. For the last 35 years of his life, he couldn’t even celebrate Mass in public because they were such a distraction.
Many of his brothers were envious of his gifts, scolded him and were cruel to him. Despite this cross, he continued to remain joyful and fell even more deeply in love with God.
Even though we may not levitate during our prayer time, St. Joseph teaches us that we don’t need to be a theologian or have a diploma to experience God’s love.
St. Damien Molokai
The man who would become St. Damien of Molokai was born in rural Belgium, on January 3, 1840. He stayed with his family until he was old enough to enter the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary and took the name Damien.
After being ordained a priest in Hawaii, Father Damien volunteered to go to the Kalaupapa Peninsula to minister to the leper colony on the island of Molokai. Once he arrived, he found anarchy, chaos, poor living conditions and dilapidated homes. He worked hard to restore order and improve the living conditions. He used his carpentry skills to build two chapels and shelters for the residents. He provided basic medical care, established a fresh water supply and started an orphanage. He sought to always show dignity to those who were suffering from this deforming and painful disease. He even built coffins and dug graves so they would all have a proper burial.
Eventually, Father Damien contracted leprosy himself. Despite his debilitating illness, he persevered with prayer and devotion, especially praying the rosary and spending time in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. “It is at the foot of the altar that we find the strength we need in our isolation,” he wrote.
Father Damien refused to leave the island to receive treatment for his leprosy and succumbed to the disease five years later. Just three months after his initial arrival on the island, he wrote these words to his brother: “I make myself a leper with the lepers to gain all to Jesus Christ.” At the time of his death, the majority of Molokai was Catholic. His hard work to win souls for Christ undoubtedly paid off.
St. Andre Bessette
St. Andre’s life almost didn’t happen. In fact, he almost died at birth. He was an orphan at an early age and his frail health continued to make it difficult to ever hold a job for very long. He eventually approached the Holy Cross Brothers and was accepted as a novitiate. However, the brothers asked him to leave once it became apparent that his frail health made him too weak to do much work. He begged to stay and a visiting bishop permitted him to remain.
He was eventually given the task of porter at Notre Dame College in Montreal. There he simply answered the door to those who came to visit the brothers. Over the years, people came to see St. Andre more to speak with him, pray with him and ask for healing. He had a special devotion to St. Joseph and would pray to him to heal the people who came. As word began to spread that this illiterate brother could heal, his other brothers became jealous and started to complain about him, calling him a charlatan and a fraud. Br. Andre never claimed to be a healer and always credited the miracles to St. Joseph. Eventually, his popularity grew to be so much that the order moved him to the train station to receive folk.
St. Andre teaches us that even if we aren’t the strongest or the smartest, in the eyes of God, the simplest tasks can become the greatest acts of love and make all the difference.
Venerable Matt Talbot
Sometimes it’s easier to relate to those saints who weren’t priests or religious. Born in 1856, in Dublin, Ireland, Matt Talbot became addicted to alcohol at age 13. He dropped out of school and entered the workforce but spent all his money on going to bars and drinking. For 15 years he was an alcoholic and lived a life of partying and bar-hopping.
One day, after spending all his money and having no friends to help him, he decided to try to quit drinking for three months. He made a general confession and returned to Mass. He completely turned his life around eventually becoming a Third Order Franciscan and even teaching himself to read.
Despite all of this, it was still hard to live a sober life. He would pass by the bars he frequented every day and had to make a concerted effort to avoid them. He persevered in prayer and made acts of penance, like paying back the people he borrowed or stole from while he was drinking to make amends. The temptation to drink was always present, but he was able to stay sober for 40 years until his death of heart failure at age 69.
Venerable Matt Talbot shows us that making amends and performing acts of service can be a great way to resist temptations and avoid regressing into bad habits.
Blessed Sara Salkahazi
Described as a tom-boy, independent and a bit of a brash loudmouth, Sara Salkahazi was born in 1899 to a well-to-do family in Hungary. She quickly discovered a love of writing and knew she wanted to become a teacher. As a teacher, she started to write newspaper articles exposing the plights of the poor and marginalized in society. She especially loved writing about women’s social issues of the day and worked as an editor of the Christian Socialist Party’s newspaper.
She was an agnostic, bordering on atheism. She also fell into the bad habit of chain smoking. Sara was far from looking for religious life. But it definitely found her. After attending a meeting held by some of the members of a new order called the Sisters of Social Service, she immediately felt the call to join them. Not surprisingly, though, she was denied. She didn’t quite fit the mold of a religious sister with her brash personality and rough edges.
However, she kept asking to join and after taking a year to quit smoking, her persistence paid off and she was admitted into the order in 1929 at age 30.
Her fast-talking, loud and energetic personality was a stark contrast to the other sisters who often thought she was trying to show off. At one point, her superiors doubted that this was her call and refused to let her renew her temporary vows or wear the habit for a year. This caused her great anxiety and doubt if she should continue in her vocation. But God heard her pleas because she was eventually able to renew her vows.
As the Nazis came to power and started to persecute Hungarian Jews, her community of sisters provided safe havens. Sister Sara helped start the Working Girls’ Homes to house refugees and is credited with saving over 100 of them all by herself.
As the war went on, the work to hide and arrange for Jews to escape the Nazi regime became increasingly more dangerous and on December 27, 1944, Nazi officials were at one of the homes Sister Sara ran. Incredibly, she had the opportunity to run away and escape, but she felt in her heart that she needed to be there. She walked right into the house and was immediately questioned and arrested. She was taken to the bank of the Danube River along with four other Jews and one Christian co-worker. They were shot and killed, stripped naked and then dumped into the river.
Sister Sara’s perseverance in pursuing her vocation and her work to save the lives of persecuted Jews makes her an incredible example of how persistence pays off with eternal rewards.