FRIDAY HOMILY: Saints for Today
Calling the saints to mind inspires, or rather arouses in us, above all else, a longing to enjoy their company, so desirable in itself. We long to share in the citizenship of heaven, to dwell with the spirits of the blessed, to join the assembly of patriarchs, the ranks of the prophets, the council of apostles, the great host of martyrs, the noble company of confessors and the choir of virgins. St. Bernard of Clairvaux
WASHINGTON, DC (Catholic Online) - Several months ago a man came to me and asked if I would pray about becoming his spiritual director. I asked him if he had a goal in mind for his spiritual formation, to which he immediately responded, "I certainly do!." "So what would that be?" I asked.
"More than anything else in my life," he said, "I want to become a saint. I'm willing to do whatever it takes." At that point I said, "With that lofty goal, are you sure you aren't setting your sites a little low on spiritual directors?" He laughed.
His statement really impacted me in such profound way. You don't hear people talking like that very much any more. Yet, in today's world, this is probably the most important thing we could do - aspire to be a modern saint.
Today, the Feast of All Saints, is a good day to be thinking about the fact that you, too, can be a saint. St. Bernard, an abbot in Clairvaux Abbey, France, from the twelfth century, reminds us of this when he writes, Why should our praise and glorification, or even the celebration of this feast day mean anything to the saints? What do they care about earthly honors when their heavenly Father honors them by fulfilling the faithful promise of the Son?
What does our commendation mean to them? The saints have no need of honor from us; neither does our devotion add the slightest thing to what is theirs. Clearly, if we venerate their memory, it serves us, not them. But I tell you, when I think of them, I feel myself inflamed by a tremendous yearning.
Becoming a Saint is a Choice
The Gospel is all about decision. Saints don't come from getting a special degree or taking certain courses. They are formed in the context of living out their lives wholly for God. They don't always succeed but they never stop trying.
Bernard of Clairvaux again writes, Calling the saints to mind inspires, or rather arouses in us, above all else, a longing to enjoy their company, so desirable in itself. We long to share in the citizenship of heaven, to dwell with the spirits of the blessed, to join the assembly of patriarchs, the ranks of the prophets, the council of apostles, the great host of martyrs, the noble company of confessors and the choir of virgins.
Becoming a Saint is also a Process
Last summer, while in Rome, we visited the Scala Sancta,in English the Holy Stairs. According to the Christian tradition, these were the steps that led up to the praetorium of Pontius Pilate in Jerusalem, which Jesus Christ stood on during his Passion on his way to trial. The stairs are to be climbed on your knees and I decided to do it.
With lofty intentions of glorious prayer for each step, I began the arduous climb up what looked to be at least a hundred steps (actually there were only 28). Prayer was punctuated by groans and pain, especially in my knees.
With each stair, I reminded myself that I'm much older than my attitude thinks I am. So I offered up my discomfort, prayed as I could and simply took one step at a time.
The longer I went, the more I was able to understand how to navigate my elder-body up the stairs. Such is the work of a saint. Building life virtue upon virtue.
Jesus reminds us of the various steps to sainthood in the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount. He talks about being poor in spirit, in mourning, meek, merciful, etc. I like to call them the "Be" attitudes.
This is not an arbitrary list of qualities, but stepping-stones to holiness, with each attitude built upon the ones before. By tackling them one at a time, we can begin building a life that can be used by God.
Becoming a Saint Requires Grace
Archbishop Chaput wrote in his column this week, "The saints aren't just our models, though. They form what Paul called "a great cloud of witnesses" (Heb. 12:1). The saints in heaven pray for us on earth, urging us on as we run the race of faith. They offer us hope in two ways.
"First, they show us that, by God's grace, heroic Christian lives are possible. Second, they remind us of the destiny God has in store for those he loves. This life is a preparation for eternal union with God in heaven."
Through the prayers of the saints, the grace of the sacraments and the will to persevere, we can truly aspire to sainthood. The key thing to remember is that sainthood is not about what we do but who we are. We are Christ's disciples and, as he tells us in Luke 6:40, "a disciple who is fully taught will be like his teacher.
Dr. Tom Neal, who is the Academic Dean at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, had students there write on the subject, We Need Saints. He tools several of them and placed them on his blog - "Neal Obstat." One Master's Student in Theological Studies, Paige LaCour, wrote this:
We need saints...
Whose lives tell a Christmas story.
Saints who have felt the dirt of the tomb and have been rinsed in the light of Easter.
Saints whose souls magnify the Lord.
Who are overcome with robust laughter and authentic sorrow.
Whose lives make sense of reality.
Who hope beyond hope.
Who really spend their lives.
Who commit wholeheartedly.
Who are unafraid to fail.
Who trust in God's mercy.
Who know their worth as God's child.
We need saints who weep at the Beautiful in the grocery store and while mowing the lawn and discover the Paschal Mystery right there.
As St. Bernard said, "Come, brethren, let us at length spur ourselves on. We must rise again with Christ, we must seek the world which is above and set our mind on the things of heaven.
Father Randy Sly is the Associate Editor of Catholic Online and a priest with the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter (http://usordinariate.org) established by the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, through the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus. He is currently the chaplain of the St. John Fisher Ordinariate Community, a priest in residence at Our Lady of Hope Catholic Church and Director of Pro-Life Activities for the Ordinariate. He is a popular speaker for parishes, apostolates and organizations.
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