A saint is all through and all over “heroic.” There is no exercise of “heroic virtue” without insurmountable obstacles. Heroism that involves suffering surpasses all other forms of heroism. This is the heroism that Jesus Christ demands of every one of his disciples. Christ said, “If anyone would be my disciple, let him pick up his cross and follow me.” A Christian is one who suffers because of his vocation. The saint lives for eternity in time and he lives for the spirit in flesh, therefore the saint must suffer.
Those with courage, aspiration, heroism can be satisfied to the full here. For within you is the only true battleground; conquer there and you are greater than Alexander or Napoleon. For vanity conquered one and ambition conquered the other. But in vanquishing yourself, you vanquish the conquerors of Alexander and Napoleon.
- Servant of God Isaac Thomas Hecker
RESPONSE: REV. PAUL ROBICHAUD, CSP
Pope Benedict XIV (1740-1748) was a canon lawyer who reformulated the process for making saints. His definition of “heroic virtue” as cited here by Servant of God, Isaac Thomas Hecker in his reflection. This is the basic definition of holiness that the Vatican has applies to candidates for sainthood. Putting it in contemporary speech, we would say that heroic virtue motivates a saint is to act promptly, happily and without difficulty, even in the face of insurmountable odds. It is evident in the life of Father Hecker that he believed that God was at work in his life. He surrendered to God’s will; what he called “Divine Providence.” Hecker guided the Paulist Fathers as well as enthusiastically preached the Catholic faith at a time of great anti-Catholic feeling in America. He lived a life of radical hope.
Today Father Hecker reminds us that discipleship involves suffering. To live out eternity in our time, to live for the spiritual world in the world of the flesh involves suffering. Most of us will never be canonized as saints but we like the saints live out our discipleship through our suffering. Hecker spent the last years of his life with what we believe was a form of leukemia that drained his energy. A man of great vision, he imagined projects that he did not have the strength to carry out. Yet despite his struggle with physical illness, he managed to write articles and a fourth or final book as well as address the American bishops at the Third Council of Baltimore and inspire his community to evangelize America. No matter how insurmountable the odds he encountered, Servant of God Isaac Hecker promptly and happily looked to the future with hope.
Paulist Father Paul Robichaud CSP is Historian of the Paulist Fathers and Postulator of the Cause of Father Hecker. His office is located at the Hecker Center in Washington D.C.