“You cannot be half a saint; you must be a whole saint or no saint at all.” -St. Thérèse of Lisieux
St. Thérèse understood our faith must be at the center of everything in our lives. That is why studying how the saints like Thérèse lived can be a vital part of understanding how God works in our own lives. But we should look for more local examples as well. The life of a women who lived in a cloistered community in the 19th century can inspire us, but it might be difficult to parallel her struggles with our own. If God truly calls us all to sainthood then surely we can find saints closer to home.
This post will be my second in a series of posts designed to spread the wisdom of a few “Everyday Austin Saints.” Non-celibate people living right here in the Hill Country, who I believe are walking examples of living saintly lives. If you know someone who meets this description you’d like me to write about please email me at Henrichson.Trenton@gmail.com. For this post I have chosen Deacon Raymond L. Sanders, Jr. from St. Theresa parish.
A friend of mine once asked her grade school nephew what he wanted to be when he grew up. His answer was more divinely precocious than anticipated. He simply stated “I want to be a saint.” I wonder how the budding saint will answer the question the day he graduates high school. Will he be confident of a future “Studying Theology” or will his plans involve “Joining the Navy”. How might he answer the day he graduates college. Will he be ready to “Start his first job as…” or still “Discerning a career as…”? Why do life’s questions become more difficult as we grow up?
Raymond Sanders(Ray) is in his 70‘s. If you asked Ray what he did when he grew up the answer would still be unexpected. He could say he served in the Navy. He could say he had a career as an engineer. He could say he married a godly woman and had eight grandchildren. He could say he was ordained into Holy Orders. Ray could say any of those things because they are all true. But every way Ray could answer would reveal a path taken towards sainthood.
Rays journey began in a poor non-catholic family in central Illinois. Ray had always had a strong interest in the bible. As his understanding of scripture and theology grew he decided the Catholic Church held the closest to this understanding. At age 17 Ray joined the Navy in hopes of finding a better life. During boot camp he converted to Catholicism.
In the Navy Ray began to wonder if God was calling him to the priesthood. While Ray felt at home in the strict discipline of the military his values made a stark contrast with those of the young men he served with, especially when it came to sex. When his shipmates poor decisions got them into trouble they would often come to Ray seeking assistance and advice. His shipmates gave him the nickname “Chaplin”. But Ray came to describe himself as a “Helpful Henry” always feeling called to help out anyone who asked him. Ray began to discern this nature would fit in well into a vocation serving the church.
But before he left the Navy he would meet his wife Joanne. This was enough to convince Ray he was not called to celibacy. As most people do Ray found the vocation of marriage was not always an easy one. Joanne and Ray were raised in very different families, creating two very different ideas of how to raise their own children. Ray and Joanne confess today that there were years when their marriage was “unstable”. In the vocation of marriage we depend on Gods grace to learn to love someone different from ourselves. Through grace Ray and Joanne have continued to learn to love each other for over 50 years.
In 1961 Ray left the military and began a career as a systems engineer. Engineering presented new challenges in Rays path to sainthood. At the time an average work week for engineers was around 70-80 hours. Ray notes that two things were important to him during this time in his life. First it was important that he work for a moral company. And second it was important to work for a flexible company. Moving towards sainthood requires balancing obligations of work, family and church. This requires flexibility and balance.
Then in 1972 Paul VI reorganized holy orders in accordance with Vatican II. One important consequence was reestablishing the permanent deaconate and opening it up to married men. According to the Catechism Deacons are marked with the (sacramental) character of Christ “the servant of all”, in order to participate in various ministries of service (CCC 1569-1570). Deacons are called to be the image of Christ by being the image of a servant. In other words its an entire vocation of Helpful Henrys. Ray Sanders joined the second class of permanent deacons in 1973.
Ray has lived out his call to serve in many ministries. He helps prepare annulments and other documents for the office tribunal. He shares his many life experiences when serving as a spiritual director. Along with his wife he has helped lead catholic education classes. One of his most rewarding ministerial roles has been helping prepare young catholic couples for marriage. Along with their life experience, Ray and Joanne can provide many tools to help young couples understand and prepare for the challenges that come with marriage and raising children.
Ray advises people the best way to discover where God is leading you is to “Jump in and swim.” You may not no where your path is leading, but your instincts will tell you where to begin. And Ray reassures you that you will not drown. My challenge for you this post; is to take a moment to listen to your instincts and then jump in.
Some of us never know what we want to be. But God has always known what he has made. And wherever we choose to go the Spirit will find our path home. We are blessed to have saints like Ray Sanders to show us that there are many ways God can use our lives.