We visited the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C. when I was thirteen. A few of the collections were particularly memorable. The locomotives in the train room frightened me. That’s where I first realized that I was a little claustrophobic. The fifty-two foot Foucault Pendulum and the American flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write our national anthem were fascinating. We spent three days visiting the Smithsonian. Each day, my sister and I ran straight for the railing where we could look down and watch the pendulum swing back and forth. At the end of each visit, we said our good-byes to the stained and weathered American flag.
But the two things that I remember the most were the Hope Diamond and the Bradford Toy House.
I wanted to take these two things back with me to our Iowa home. I wanted to own the Hope Diamond. I wanted to play with the little people in the Bradford Toy House.
I think I fell in love with the diamond and the toy house for the same reasons that I am fascinated by the lives of the saints.
Their testament to the faith shines brighter than the Hope Diamond. Their lives are the epitome of what it means to be holy and righteous. And yet, they often lived lives of no great notoriety. To be great, they had to become small – like the little family that lived in the Bradford Toy House.
They had to wash floors, give what they had to the poor, take care of the dying even if it meant they would succumb to the illness and die as well. They had to live in obscurity, like Mary and Joseph who shared their lives and home with the Lord of all creation. Little lives. Nobody gave them a second glance. They weren't on the nightly news. Nobody interviewed them. They didn't live in a palace. They rode on a donkey, not in a BMW. They worked for a living. Hardly the life one would expect for the greatest mother and father of all time.
They had to shine like diamonds on the inside, but live like the littlest of God's creatures on the outside.
It is a paradox. Like putting the Hope Diamond in one hand a miniature Bradford figurine in the other. They don't go together at all . . . and somehow they fit together perfectly.
Holy Mother Church is blessed to have many shining examples of those who fought the good fight and ran the race well. As the Catechism says in paragraph #828 the Church recognizes the power of the Spirit of holiness within her and sustains the hope of believers by proposing the saints to them as models and intercessors. Bottom line, the saints show us how to become holy. They lead us in the journey to personal sanctification.
When I hear the Litany of Saints or read the biography of a holy one, I am encouraged. I see that true holiness is possible. It is not a pie-in-the-sky mirage. It is not some diamond that only the world’s rich and famous can possess. It is within our grasp.
It is all decided in the sphere of the human will. I choose Christ. Or I choose self. I pick up the crosses in life. Or I magnify my wants and desires. That is not to say that personal holiness is easy. Attaining heroic virtue and sainthood is difficult.
But it is not impossible.
Listen to the Litany of Saints. And be filled with hope. With God, all things are possible. He can take a soul and make it shine more brightly than the Hope Diamond. He can teach your soul the little way of the saints.
It’s like holding the Hope Diamond in one hand and a Bradford figurine in the other. They don’t seem to go together at all. And yet, somehow, they are a matched set.