The upcoming Feast of All Saints will likely raise the obvious question, “How many saints are there in the Catholic Church?” The short answer is that over 10,000 holy men and women are recognized by the Church. The actual answer is much longer.
The fact is, though, that we are all called to sainthood. Through God’s grace, you’re on a journey to sainthood even at this moment. As author and priest Fr. Leo J. Trese said in his book, You Are Called to Greatness, “You are a saint because you are in the state of sanctifying grace. Your soul is sharing in God’s own life and is transformed by your personal union with God’s infinite holiness.”
Fr. Leo J. Trese (1902-1970)
Fr. Leo J. Trese is not a name we often hear anymore. The prolific author wrote over twenty books in the mid-twentieth century, many of which were translated into multiple languages. However, his pastoral wisdom calls us to the greatness of sainthood, exactly what we need in this age of mediocrity.
Much like Fulton J. Sheen, Fr. Leo was a parish priest who possessed the gift of being able to explain the truths of Catholic philosophy and theology in approachable ways. While he was well-read and well-educated, even earning a Ph.D. in later years, the good priest wrote and preached in ways that challenge modern readers while also encouraging us to become saints.
Fr. Leo was the youngest of five children and his parents were his first example of holiness. As he later notes, “Parents have the wonderful privilege to be the first persons to introduce a child to God.” His father, Joseph, was a grocer while his mom, Mary Alice, was a former teacher who encouraged a love for books in her family.
From an early age, Joseph’s charity with his neighbors left a powerful impression on the future priest. When a family fell on hard times, the Port Huron grocer would deliver groceries while letting the family pay later. “When a householder was sick or out of work,” according to Fr. Leo, “his bill would mount indefinitely until he went back to work.” In the midst of the twentieth century’s hardships, this was the only safety net for many families.
The young Leo worked in the grocery store throughout college where he saw his father’s hard work and kindness up close. Meanwhile, his mother encouraged a love for good books that endured throughout his life and family trips to the Carnegie Library were common. Throughout this, Catholic education was central to the Trese household.
Life of a Priest
In 1927, Fr. Leo Trese was ordained as a diocesan priest in the Archdiocese of Detroit. After years of acting as an assistant pastor, he joined the Benedictines hoping to become a missionary to China. However, Providence led him to teach college theology courses and work with homeless youth before returning to life as a parish priest.
It wasn’t until he was in his forties that Fr. Trese discovered his vocation as a writer. Until that time, he worked at parishes across the Archdiocese and even helped to establish new ones. However, he found great joy in writing and had a natural talent for it. His articles were popular and he was soon getting approached by publishers.
You Are Called to Sainthood
The call to sainthood is not an easy life. There is no consumer replacement for the life of grace. The world will offer us comfort and the allure of instant gratification, but the Lord has greater plans for us. As Pope Benedict XVI said, “The ways of the Lord are not easy, but we were not created for an easy life, but for great things, for goodness.”
As Fr. Trese notes, striving for sainthood is not the same as striving for official canonization. “We may be sure that there is no saint in the Church’s calendar who ever expected to be raised to the honors of the altar.” The saint’s concern is for growing in the love of Christ each and every day.
God created us for greatness; He created us to be filled with His presence. However, according to Pope Benedict, our hearts must first be “stretched” to make room for such greatness. But God’s grace in unlikely to work on us overnight. God’s grace can enlarge our hearts and He can help us to grow in holiness. However, for most us, this will be a daily challenge.
Fr. Trese’s advice is to start today by offering our days to God while expressing gratitude at each moment. Such a daily offering has the power to make even your simplest acts into the deeds of a saint.
“When we have begun our day by offering it without reserve to God—all our thoughts, words, actions, and sufferings—and live that day in the state of grace, then we have achieved the pinnacle of greatness. Even our least actions have a tremendous meaning and an eternal value. Even the act of tying our shoelaces reverberates in Heaven.”
Reading for the Journey
Sophia Institute Press recently brought back Fr. Leo Trese’s classic book, You Are Called to Greatness. You can check out a free excerpt of it here on Catholic Exchange.
I also recommend another one of Fr. Trese’s spiritual works, Seventeen Steps to Heaven: A Catholic Guide to Salvation. You can find these books through your favorite bookstore or Sophia Institute Press.