St Deogratias

(entered heaven in 457)

Dear Grace,

I love your question.  It shows, well, it shows that you are well-named.  If you are looking for a shortcut to holiness, that means you want holiness, and such a desire is indeed a grace from God.

All the experts will tell you that there is no shortcut to holiness.  Well, in my avuncular opinion, they are dead wrong.  There is a shortcut.  It’s called gratitude.  Today’s saint found this shortcut, and his name proves it: “Deo gratias” is Latin for “thanks be to God”.  We don’t know much about his early life, when he first discovered God’s goodness and began filling his soul with it.  But we do know a lot about the results of that discovery.

Deogratias was made bishop of the great city of Carthage (called Tunis nowadays, in Tunisia, northern Africa) in the year 453, after the See had been vacant for 13 years.  The vacancy was due to the famous king of the Vandals, Genseric, who had overrun Carthage and sent the bishop and other Christians on a leaky vessel into the sea, hoping to teach them a final lesson.  (They made it safely to Naples, which was a real miracle.)  The Vandals (they were Arian heretics) forbade the consecration of a new bishop until Deogratias, who was beloved by all, heretics, pagans, and faithful Catholics alike, came into the picture.

Soon after Deogratias’s consecration, Genseric’s savage troops sacked Rome.  The undisputed ruler of the Mediterranean then gathered hoards of conquered peoples (Christians) and sold them as slaves.  They started showing up in the markets of Carthage.  Deogratias, already an old man, reacted with heroic charity.  He liquidated all the goods of his churches – even vestments and chalices, everything.  With this money he redeemed the Christian slaves.  Then he housed them by turning a couple of his bigger churches into communal shelters and dormitories – gathering food, beds, clothing…  In spite of his age, he spent his free hours (most of them at night) visiting those who were sick, providing for whatever they needed.

Soon his charity alienated the Arians in the city.  They sought to do away with him.  He avoided a couple assassination attacks and continued his ministry.  After only three years as a bishop, he died in his bed, from exhaustion.

That’s the heroic, beautiful, fruitful love and courage of holiness.  And the shortcut to get there is gratitude.  If you fill your heart with gratitude to God for all his generous and wise deeds, turning your attention to his immense and majestic goodness in every moment and circumstance, you will simply crowd out all sin and selfishness (which at their deepest level consist in nothing other than lack of trust in God’s goodness, i.e. lack of gratitude).  There will be room only for your response of love to God’s gift of love.  And that’s what holiness is all about.

Your loving uncle,


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