Fr. Michael Plekon in his book HIDDEN HOLINESS offers us ideas of personal holiness which steer far away from sensationalism or spectacular displays of people of great renown. He offers examples of holiness which might be better termed “the Kingdom of God breaking into this world” through the lives of devout Christians who have not grabbed the headlines on the nightly news. As Plekon expresses it:
“What I tried to show throughout is that the ‘cult of celebrity’ will not soon go away. Our culture thrives on the ‘lifestyles of the rich and famous’ and those of the spectacularly saintly.”
Plekon turns away from the stilted hagiographies with their stylized stories of spectacular miracles to look into the lives of men and women who embraced Christ but will not be written about in the lives of saints. His very point is that in embracing the more “cult of celebrity” ideas of sainthood, we miss seeing the holiness all around us. We set up ideas of holiness which are inimitable and then wonder why we lack examples in hagiography of moms and dads and laborers and normal kinds of people. The cult of celebrity when mixed with the cult of saints leaves us with spectacular stories which have little to do with our daily lives. We might find such stories as great examples of God intervening in the world in the most fantastic ways, but then find little connection to what we are actually experiencing in our own daily lives. Holiness thus becomes the stuff of heavenly superheroes who belong to a pagan pantheon rather than what each and every Christian is called to live in their daily walk with Christ.
“We’re constantly invited to live our lives through the carefully packaged lives of celebrities, even people who are famous only for performing some infamously stupid or vulgar act… Holy realism rejects these false images of the world and human life, and it reminds us of who we really are… Holy realism asserts that life does matter, how we live it matters. It’s not willing to accept… that the endless daily drudgery is all there is to life. Holy realism takes a stand for awe and wonder and beauty even in the midst of the ordinary daily activities.” (Kathleen Norris)
As Roman Catholic social activist Dorothy Day notes, the Christian life as we experience it is not always making a choice between the cosmic good and evil in which the fate of the world depends on what we do. Much more common is we are making small choices in which we decide to love someone by denying ourselves something quite simple and mundane. We take up the cross daily to follow Christ, not just once in some grand display of splendor.
“Archbishop Robichaud, in his book Holiness for All, emphasizes the fact that the choice is not between good and evil for Christians – that it is not in this way that one proves one’s love… but between good and better. In other words, we must give up over and over again even the good things of the world, to choose God…”
Holiness is connected to our praying daily, forgiving someone, giving generously to someone, admitting we are wrong and asking forgiveness, turning away from our selfish self interest in order to serve and love someone else, doing the next right thing.
For whatever reason holiness for much of Christian history ended up being a merging of the cult of saints with the cult of celebrity. This is not just a modern thing. The lives of saints in Orthodoxy are filled with spectacular and miraculous events that are said to have happened to the saints. Yet, holiness does not belong only to heaven or only to superheroes. It is the stuff of which the Christian life is made. Holiness is part of the life of each baptized Christian, of each communicant, of each confessant, of each person who repents, of each who prays, gives and forgives. Plekon’s book reminds us of this truth which ultimately helps restore holiness to the life of each of us and to make us realize that we are to be the holy ones of God. As the priest claims at every Divine Liturgy, “Holy things for the Holy Ones.” We each are called to this holiness and we are to be the holy ones of God.
And saints are not just to be displayed on our walls as icons, they are to be examples of how to live our daily lives as Christians in the the 21st Century in our homes, neighborhoods, places of business or employment, ball parks, grocery stores and vacation resorts.