5 lessons from 5 examples of “middle-class holiness”

Michelle Tan

In his Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate 6, Pope Francis refers to a category of saints who are not beatified or canonised, but who are examples of “a holiness found in our next-door neighbours, and who, living in our midst, reflect God’s presence. We might call them ‘the middle class of holiness.’” Who might such saintly neighbours be, and what might they teach us? Let’s look to the Bible.

  1. The little slave girl of Naaman’s wife (2 Kings 5:1-16)

This little Israelite slave girl served the wife of Naaman, the commander of the foreign army which had conquered Israel, and who had taken her captive. Naaman had leprosy and was desperate for a cure. One day, the little girl mentioned to her mistress that if Naaman went to Israel, the prophet Elijah could cure him.  Naaman did so, was cured, and was converted into a worshipper of God.

In this time of restricted travel, many of us are separated from our loved ones in other countries. We may feel alone and afraid, yet we are called to stay faithful to God, serve Him and others without anger or resentment at our circumstances, and remain open to His using us as a channel of His grace.

Do we see the little children in our midst, our domestic helpers at home, or even the migrant workers in our workplaces as God’s messengers of hope?

  1. The woman with the haemorrhage (Mark 5:23-34)

This young woman had been bleeding continuously for 12 long years. This meant that she was unclean, and unable to worship in the Temple, and anyone or anything she touched would also be unclean. She was so desperate, she spent all her money on failed treatments, yet she never gave up. Although she was totally cut off from God and the world, she must have been empowered by the Holy Spirit to pluck up enough courage to reach out to Jesus who heard her confession and healed her, body and soul. Restored to complete wholeness, she could freely re-integrate herself into the people of God.

In this time of Covid-19, with social distancing, travel restrictions and minimal access to the Sacraments, we too may feel isolated from God and the world, and we may be tempted to try all sorts of ineffective, worldly ways to dispel our fear and loneliness.

Do we regularly set aside the busyness of everyday life to pray and listen to the Holy Spirit attentively to discern where He is leading us?

  1. Noah’s wives and daughters-in-law (Genesis 7:1-7)

Noah, his wife, his three sons and their wives, and all the animals were in the ark for 40 days and 40 nights. Imagine the living conditions in the ark, and how much cooking, housekeeping and laundry the women must have done while the menfolk were busy with repairs and keeping their zoo under control! Then, when the flood ended, they had to rebuild the world from scratch, while raising God-fearing children who would become the forebears of all humanity.

During the Circuit Breaker period, many of us must have felt confined and captive in our homes, especially if we were issued Stay Home Notices or Quarantine Orders. Even now, in Phase 2, we still feel restricted and uncomfortable.

Yet we are called to play our unique role in God’s plan of salvation faithfully for the common good. How are we answering that call?

  1. Philip’s daughters (Acts 21:8,9)

St Paul describes how he “went into the house of Philip, the evangelist, and stayed with him. He had four unmarried daughters who had the gift of prophecy.”

Since the elderly are particularly vulnerable to the Covid-19 virus, many are unable to attend their regular day care centres or stay in their nursing homes, and must stay home.

Do we look after our elderly with the same care and attention as Philip’s daughters, whilst still using our God-given gifts for the building up of His Kingdom generously and cheerfully?

  1. The widow and her jar of oil (2 Kings 4:1-7)

When a man died, his creditors came to take his children to sell them into debt-slavery. Desperate, his widow turned to the prophet Elisha for help. On Elijah’s instructions, she asked her neighbours for all the empty vessels they had. Elijah then told her to keep pouring from her single jar of oil (the only asset she had) into each vessel until it was full. Miraculously, all the vessels were filled to the brim. She sold the oil, cleared her deceased husband’s debts and saved her children.

Many of us have suffered loss during this Covid-19 pandemic – loss of our loved ones to death or the enslavement of addiction, loss of our jobs or financial security, our health and freedom, and even our liturgy, faith and hope.

Do we turn to God for help, like the widow? Do we do His will, no matter how incredible or unexpected? Do we, like the widow’s neighbours, answer the pleas of the poor in spirit in our midst? Do we have faith that God will provide for us as he did the widow and her family?

Everyday saints

God has no favourites, but the above were chosen because they were nameless, and in many societies, women are still not accorded the human dignity and respect they deserve as children of God. They represent the good people who are invisible to the eyes of the world but who are holy and precious in the eyes of God. Like them, whether we are male or female, young or old, single or married, parents or childless, and regardless of social status, we are called to this “middle-class of holiness.” As St Paul (who is in a class of his own!) reminds us in Romans 13:10, “Love your neighbour as yourself. Love does no wrong to a neighbour” – especially if they are saints in disguise!