Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Answering the Call to Sainthood

Dear Theophilous,

If you’re not shooting for sainthood, you’re aiming too low!

It’s the truth! A saint is someone who, after this earthly existence, is spending eternity in heaven. And seriously, if your goal in this life isn’t to get to heaven, my understanding is that the other destination is a lot less pleasant.

Unfortunately, many of us, even the most devout of Christians, don’t see ourselves as saints. Perhaps it’s in our fallen nature to dwell on our own sinfulness. Maybe when we compare ourselves to the saints that have gone before us, we feel we just can’t measure up. There’s a certain discomfort we feel when we’re put on a pedestal, just like the statues in the church vestibule. Personally, I know I will be found lacking when held to such a high standard.

Still, the God who knows us, the God who loves us, calls us to Himself; He calls us all to be saints.

Sainthood is for everyone

In its wisdom, the Catholic Church understands that, although we are sinners, we are all called to be saints; we are all called to holiness. This call began with the creation of Adam and Eve, and their task to tend and guard the garden (cf Gen 2:15). God’s invitation to holiness was extended once more through Jesus Christ when he called the disciples to himself (cf Mt 4:18-22). Once again, in our own time, the Church has made the universal call to holiness:

Therefore in the Church, everyone whether belonging to the hierarchy, or being cared for by it, is called to holiness, according to the saying of the Apostle: "For this is the will of God, your sanctification". (Thess 4:3) (LumenGentium 39)

Yet many of us balk at the contemporary call to sainthood. We look to the saints that came before us, fear we won’t make the cut, so we quit before we even try. The truth of sainthood is startling though. If we look at a history of saints, we soon realize that most of them were not holy from birth; that they required a conversion of heart. The Church itself was founded on sinners:

St. Peter denied Christ;
St. Mary Magdalene was a prostitute; and
St. Paul murdered some of the first Christians.

The list is endless. A great read to know you’re not alone in your sinful start to sainthood is Thomas Craughwell’s Saints Behaving Badly.

Why does God use sinners to become saints? He wants us to take solace in knowing that nothing is impossible with God – even with ourselves.

Sainthood starts now

As the saying goes, There’s no time like the present to get started on your way to holiness. Most of us won’t have a conversion experience like St. Paul, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have a conversion of heart. We are all called by name, the question is: will we answer the call.

We might not always recognize them, but these calls are ever-present in our lives. They are not always big and brazen, the Lord rarely works like that, but they are usually a small nudge to get us going back in the right direction. It could be a near miss on the highway, a miscommunication that blows up at work, or a lifestyle choice that leads us to harm. I once heard these small nudges referred to as a Purgatorial Pinch. Once we recognize them, we can use these moments to re-boot our path to sainthood.

Whenever she wants to try to bring me down a notch, my own mother often reminds me of my misspent youth with a quip I know where you come from and I know what you’ve done. My pat answer to this remark is a steadfast: In the journey towards heaven, it’s not where we come from that counts, but where we’re going. I know exactly what my sins are; so does the Lord. I confess and I reconcile with Him, confident He will show me the way.

It’s in recognizing our faults that we become repentant and re-orient ourselves towards God. As any sinner will tell you, the road to sainthood is long and arduous. From time to time we may slip or lose our way. What matters is getting back on the right path so we can arrive at our destination.

It’s never too late to get on the road to sainthood (cf Mt 20:1-16), but NOW is always the best time to get started.

Sainthood is a community

Teaching catechesis in both French and English, as well has having a command of both Portuguese and German to varying degrees, I love to play with language. I’m constantly looking for the ways in which God uses language to bring us closer to him. Something I enjoy pointing out to my students is the compound make-up of the word community from the French “comme” and “un”; meaning “as one”. So when we profess in the Creed that we believe in the communion of saints, we are professing our belief in our oneness with those who are in heaven.

Knowing that we are as one with the saints, both those in heaven as well as the ones still here on earth, gives us great courage. Life is difficult, and our path towards heaven is hard – we can’t do it alone. Thanks be to God that we have the communion of saints to see us through.

We all have our favourite saints for various reasons. Most of us find a personal call to devotion to one saint or the other; some popular, while others are more obscure. I have found that the internet is littered with devotions to the saints that have gone before us. There are Twitter Novenas or virtual candles at countless websites to bring us in closer communion with the saints. All designed to help bring us closer to God. Personally, I enjoy reading brief bios of the saints of the day; finding inspiration in their stories and strength from their words of wisdom.

We can’t forget about the saints here on earth, the saints who walk among us in our everyday lives. Yes, my generation has been blessed to be personal witness to the lives of St. Teresa of Calcutta and St. John Paul the Great, but we need to remember the communion of saints that we spend our days with.

Our family is our first encounter with the communion of saints. When we were married 20 years ago, my wife and I were charged with getting each other to heaven. Now that we are blessed with a son, it’s our responsibility to get him there to. We can’t stop there, however, and we need to recognize the holiness in the others around us – family, friends, colleagues, neighbours; no matter how hard that can be at times.

We live in a communion of saints. We need to rely on each other, but we also need to encourage each other on our path to sainthood.

Sainthood is infectious

Once we decide that our own sainthood is possible, no matter how tarnished our past, we will see it begin to rub off on others. When we decide that now is the time to make a change, others will like what they see and will follow suit. It’s living in this communion of saints that we will begin to see that the universal call to holiness is infectious.

Our little actions of sanctity can go a long way in helping create other saints around us. A simple please or thank-you; letting someone into your lane in rush hour; stopping to talk and listen to a neighbour going through a rough time – each of these will have a greater effect on the other than a sense of entitlement, blaring horn or cold shoulder. When we are saintly two things will happen, we will draw other saintly souls towards ourselves, and, more importantly, we will cause the conversion of the hearts in those we meet.

Following the news in the world today, it’s more than obvious that the world needs saints. Heed the call to holiness. Know that you can become a saint.

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