The Way to Become a Saint

All Saints 2012

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness

    Today is the Solemn Feast of All Saints, the special day on which the Church praises God by honoring all the saints in Heaven, that “great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue,” who have achieved their life’s goal, the beatitude of seeing God in the Kingdom of Heaven, the goal Jesus speaks about in today’s Gospel on the Beatitudes. Throughout the liturgical year, the Church honors certain great canonized saints for our admiration and imitation so that we can make our way to Heaven with their assistance. Today the Church enlarges our vision so that we see “the great multitude” marked with the seal of God as saints in His Kingdom, and again this feast is meant to stir up our admiration of this great communion of saints and our hope to one day be among their number. At times the great saints we honor throughout the year, the virgins and martyrs, the confessors and others marked by great sanctity already in this world, may seem too great for us to hope that we can be like them. But today the Church holds up all the saints, those who were more like us in their weaknesses and failings, but who clung to God and struggled against their weakness and failures and won though by God’s mercy and grace to become glorious members of that great body that prostrates themselves before God and cry our eternally, “Blessing and glory, wisdom and thanksgiving, honor, power, and might be to our God forever and ever.  Amen.”

    Is that not, objectively, life’s goal for every child of God, reborn by Baptism, to be among that Communion of Saints and enjoy God forever and ever? But what about subjectively? Is that my true goal in life, your true goal in life, or are we too caught up in, or distracted by the world and its goods to truly have Heaven as our life’s goal?

    Perhaps many can identify with those now famous words of William Wordsworth’s Sonnet:

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

    Of course, Wordsworth was not only a Romanticist who was caught up in the love of nature; he knew that the divine beauty was to be discovered in nature by the sensitive soul. He is quite insightful in saying that “getting and spending” lays waste our powers of seeing in nature what is ours in terms of its own grandeur and beauty. But as a Christian, he knows that the damage is far worse, for not only do we lose our capacity to see the glory of nature, but more importantly we lose our desire to see the infinitely greater glory of the God who created nature and whose beauty is only dimly reflected in the great beauty of the natural world. The worldly Christian might change that third verse to “Little we see in God that is ours!” And that is why we do not set our life’s goal in the Kingdom of Heaven. Oh truly, as Wordsworth concludes “We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

    The saints in heaven, all the saints, from the greatest to the least, definitely at some point in their lives made heaven’s glory, the vision of God, their life’s quest. It may not have been in a dramatic moment of conversion as we see in the lives of certain saints, but there had to be a turning toward God that was reflected in the practical way they lived in this world. Thus there are markers that at least we should be able to note in ourselves as to whether our life’s goal is to be among the Communion of Saints or something less, a sordid boon, as Wordsworth puts it.

    This turning to God normally happens not in some great event, but slowly and gradually and it transfers grace to the whole of life. The little way of St. Therese is really an ancient teaching on this point, that we make our way to God not only by great actions, which we admire in the great saints, but day by day through the events where we serve God and others – that is our sure path. St. Francis DeSales already wrote about this in his Introduction to the Devout Life. He shows how St. Catherine of Sienna became a saint not only by her great actions, her heights of contemplation, etc., but by the ordinary events of her daily life. Read this Christian wisdom of the saintly Bishop, St. Francis in Ch. 35:

   When I read in the Life of S. Catherine of Sienna of her ecstasies and

   visions, her wise sayings and teaching, I do not doubt but that she

   "ravished" her Bridegroom's heart with this eye of contemplation; but I

   must own that I behold her with no less delight in her father's

   kitchen, kindling the fire, turning the spit, baking the bread, cooking

   the dinner, and doing all the most menial offices in a loving spirit

   which looked through all things straight to God.

   Do seek the higher things, such as prayer and meditation, the Sacraments

   leading souls to God and kindling good thoughts in them, in a word, by

   all manner of good works according to your vocation; but meanwhile do

   not neglect your spindle and distaff. I mean, cultivate those lowly

   virtues which spring like flowers round the foot of the Cross, such as

   ministering to the poor and sick, family cares, and the duties arising

   therefrom, and practical diligence and activity; and amid all these

   things cultivate such spiritual thoughts as S. Catherine intermingled

   with her work.

   Great occasions for serving God come seldom, but little ones surround

   us daily; and our Lord Himself has told us that "he that is faithful in

   that which is least is faithful also in much." [157] If you do all in

   God's Name, all you do will be well done, whether you eat, drink or

   sleep, whether you amuse yourself or turn the spit, so long as you do

   all wisely, you will gain greatly as in God's Sight, doing all because

   He would have you do it.

    Of course, we can also transfer all this teaching to the greatest of the Saints, Mary all-holy. Who can doubt that Mary’s daily chores were occasions of great merit, or who can imagine what contemplation was taking place in her soul as she worked with her hands and poured her love into the simplest tasks? Her heart was never separated from God, even as it was never separated from her divine child, from her husband or from her broader family like Elizabeth. Her life too teaches us that the call to the heights of sanctity is not, in itself, a calling out of the world in some physical sense, but a calling to transcend the world and use the world to reach the heights of Heaven, already here on earth, and thus to prepare for the heavenly Jerusalem which will one day absorb the earthly Church, our Mother, just as it welcomed Mary as its queen. Learn not only from a learned Bishop but from Jesus and Mary how to make your way to Heaven, then you will know how to live the life you have here on earth.

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Categories: Articles, Weekday reflections

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