How many of us want to be fulfilled and deeply content in this life? How many of us want to bypass purgatory altogether at the end of our lives and walk straight through the gates of Paradise and into eternal joy?
Does anyone truly want to say, “No,” to this? If your answer is, “I want to!” then there is one demand you must make of God, and you must mean it. Tell Him, with sincerity of heart and a forcefulness of purpose, “God, make me into a saint.”
What ideas does this request conjure up for you? Does it incite fear? Are there shadows, lurking in your mind, of being tortured on the rack? –burned at the stake? –abandoned, ostracized, or exiled? –crucified upside down? While it is true that eleven of the apostles were martyred, and one, St. John the Evangelist, was imprisoned, does this also mean that these men lived sad and unfulfilled lives? Hardly!
If we believe that sainthood means suffering and misery, then we will avoid it at all costs. If our hearts cringe at the idea of sanctification, let us take the plank out of our eyes, which blinds us to what sainthood really means.
What is sainthood, in truth? Sainthood is allowing the divine spark of God to live in us so brightly that we become the fullness of who we were created to be. Sainthood is becoming, on earth, the person we will be in heaven. We become like Jesus Christ. While we may never be known by the world, or canonized by the church–very few are, our very being becomes heaven’s delight and hope.
When we think of the life of Christ, our fears can plummet into the dark question, “But I don’t want to suffer!–to be crucified!” The passion, from the Garden of Gethsemane to Golgotha, was bitterly horrible, but how long did it last, in comparison to the length of Jesus’ life? –Less than twenty-four hours, versus thirty-three years. And that life of His, those years growing up in a loving home in Nazareth, sharing with others the love in His heart at all times and places, and in His last three years of public ministry, performing miracle after miracle, bringing hope where there was despair, faith where there was fear, food where there was hunger, life where there was death–what joy, what purpose, what fulfillment animated that life!
Suffering, when endured for the sake of Christ, can be bearable, even joyful. Sainthood means finding a spark of joy, even in difficulties and pain, because suffering out of love, for the sake of saving souls, snuffs out the power of Satan, pulls down a torrent of grace upon the world, and at times, brings supernatural joy into the soul–a joy that stupefies and perplexes the world. Those who have chosen sanctity in life, were not, and are not, unhappy people.
St. Paul revealed to us the joy of a holy life, joy which can only come from God. When he was imprisoned in a cell and chained to it, hated and persecuted, St. Paul wrote to the community of Christians in Philippi: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Phil 4: 4) St. Paul is clearly sharing from the experience of his own inner life with God. Do his words reveal a sad, disheartened, miserable man? Clearly not. Yet he lived from one suffering to the next, having been flogged, stoned, beaten with rods, and shipwrecked; threatened by rivers, bandits, Jews, Gentiles, and false brothers; having gone without sleep, worked without rest, in the extreme cold and heat, sometimes without food, drink, or clothing. (2 Cor 23-27)
How is it possible for St. Paul to speak of rejoicing always? In the following passage, St. Paul speaks of the “secret” of his contentment. First, in Philippians 4: 10-13, when thanking the community in Philippi, he writes:
I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.
What is this secret? It is plain to see in the Scriptures, but very few try to follow it. Fear clouds our minds, trust falls short, and life’s burdens convince us it’s not possible for us or worth pursuing. But the secret is obvious. It is sanctity.
Sanctity means living the precepts of the Church of God, following His commandments, praying without ceasing, as St. Paul prescribes in the following passage from Philippians:
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me–put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. (Phil 4: 4-9)
And again St. Paul stresses at the end of his letter to the Thessalonians:
Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus . . . May the God of peace himself make you perfectly holy and may you entirely, spirit, soul, and body, be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will also accomplish it. (2 Thes 5: 16-18; 23-24)
If we pray for holiness, the Lord will accomplish it. People who purposefully decide not to be saintly believe they are holding onto some type or comfort and joy, or avoiding some kind of suffering. Instead, they are gripping a piece of misery. They put a limit on how much they will let God’s love consume them, and how much they will love Him in return. They put a limit on love.
Any temporary suffering we incur by doing God’s will in this life is little to nothing compared with the suffering we will undergo in the next, if we thwart God’s will. The truth of the matter is, if we choose not to be a saint, we choose to suffer more and for the wrong reasons. If we think that being a saint means ultimately enduring more suffering, we have been fooled. Deciding to fall short of sainthood is deciding to hold onto sin, which only brings darkness and despair, benefitting only the devil and his minions. Deciding to fall short of sainthood, is deciding not to pass through the gates of paradise at the end of this life, since nothing but pure, unadulterated love enters into paradise. Why would we willfully choose this? Yet this is exactly what we do, when we make something less than sanctity our goal. When we say purgatory is the best we can do, we are selling ourselves and God short. We aim high, and worst case scenario, we’ll end up in purgatory. We aim at purgatory, and well, we might miss. The only thing holding us back from heaven is ourselves, for God’s will is to take us to the heights.
Have you told God to make you into a saint? You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. It is who you really are.
Copyright 2012 Christine Watkins