Blessed are the Anonymous

I had no idea who this Jesuit was. But now, I can’t stop thinking about him.

I always love hearing about new Jesuit saints. Whenever I get an email saying that a Jesuit is about to be named a saint (or named “blessed,” the step before sainthood) I get excited. I love knowing there’s another Jesuit who’s there to pray for me, and I love hearing his story.

Yet I must confess with some embarrassment that when I first heard that Fr. Tiburcio Arnaiz, S.J., was going to be “Blessed Tiburcio Arnaiz, S.J.” on October 20th, after exclaiming “Yes!”, my next reaction was: “Who?” But in that confusion was a lot of hope.

Fr. Arnaiz gives me hope precisely because he is so unknown, at least outside of his native Spain. He was never pope or any kind of world leader. He founded no great order or movement. He did not bring down an oppressive government. He was not martyred. Once he was ordained, he hardly ever left the Spanish town of Málaga and the surrounding area. (Full disclosure: I also had to look up Málaga).

He spent most of his life in pastoral ministry—where I find myself now—giving Ignatian retreats throughout the region, visiting the local jail, and setting up a system of catechists who would live in the poorer towns. The system is still running today, but if you aren’t from Málaga, you probably haven’t met anyone who is a part of it. Even the most enduring part of his legacy is something that would never come close to bringing him fame.

But the people of Málaga loved him. His funeral drew the whole town into the church, and the people of Málaga began to call him “the apostle of the city”—a title he never heard in his lifetime.

I find Fr. Arnaiz so inspiring because I can see myself in him so easily. He did the things that I might do in a given day—hear confessions, talk to people, get to know his city. Many great saints inspire me, but also intimidate me. When would I find myself staring down the army of a dictator, like Romero did? How could I begin to evangelize not one, but two whole nations (India and Japan), like Xavier did? Who would ever look to me as a figure of global peace, as the whole world did for John XXIII?

How often have we felt like we must change the world or do great things? Yet for most of us, the world will likely look much the same when we die. Fr. Arnaiz lived from 1865-1926, and if the world looked any different, it had little to do with him. Fr. Arnaiz was an anonymous man, serving God and helping others where he was. Never traveling, never making much noise, always serving.

Until a few days ago, you likely did not know about him, as I did not know about him, as the world did not know about him. But God knew, and the people of Málaga knew. People like Fr. Arnaiz can make us all breathe a little easier when we realize that we do not have to be global figures to be good. We do not have to change the world to be saints.

There are many saints and blesseds like Fr. Arnaiz—people with wonderful stories we can easily see ourselves in and be moved to imitate. Anonymous people who live their lives with great love, and help the people around them see God a little better. So many stories, one of which is bound to be like yours.

Go find your anonymous saint. Saints like Gianna Molla, an Italian pediatrician and mother who had a difficult pregnancy with her fourth child, refused the opportunity to have an abortion, and died due to complications in childbirth (the child is still alive, and is a doctor herself now), or St. Alphonsus Rodriguez, the receptionist at a Spanish Jesuit high school who used his work as a chance to talk with people and help them find God’s will in their life.

 

Find that saint who was never famous and reminds you of you, whose story you had never heard but now captures your imagination. Find that saint, let them challenge you, and work to live up to that challenge for the rest of your life.

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