"I Want to be a Saint. . ."

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This expression of the Christian vocation works for some of those great Saints who grew up surrounded on all sides by strong Christian virtue (St. Thèrése) and perhaps some others. I claim this as my goal as well, but recently I've been called to examine that ambition. Do I want to be a saint for the right reasons?

What are some right reasons for wanting to be a saint? It seems there are several, some more valid than others. First, it would seem to me that a right and proper desire to be a saint comes from an orientation of love toward God, the Holy Trinity, and the hosts of heaven. This would be the most proper orientation. A second reason might be that our Lord commanded us to be saints, "Be ye perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect." A third, but more shadowy reason might be to participate fully in Divinity.

It is as we move toward these more shadowy reasons that the question begins to bear full weight. Why might I want to participate more fully in Divinity? Do I want to for the sake of God and His Kingdom, or do I wish it for my own sake?

Let's talk about some less-than-worthy motives for wishing to be a Saint. The one that crops up first and largest in my mind is, "I want to be a saint so I will be remembered as are the other saints." Now, no one who really wants to be a saint would admit to this reason; however, in carefully examining my own motives, I have to admit that this occasionally crosses my mind. It isn't the predominant factor in my desire, but it is enough present that I am aware of it. When I think about the great saints of the past--Augustine, Ambrose, Athanasius, I think how fortunate they were to be Saints so early on because they would contribute foundational that would become the building blocks of the entire Church. No theologian of the twentieth century can be said to have done that--at most they have provided additional understandings of God and Church. The great work has been done, work remains, but not necessarily the kind of work we think of in theology--again I point to St. Thèrése as a Doctor of the Church. Not a theologian in the technical sense, I suppose, but one who had much to teach those who would listen.

However, even less-than-laudable motives for desiring to be a saint can be used by Our Lord to make true saints. The work of sanctity begins with the recognition of Him who sanctifies and with an outward movement, aided by grace, toward the source of All. This outward movement can have the colorings of inward motion because it of necessity seeks to identify and ground the self. Without knowing ourselves and the little tricks and strategems we use to protect ourselves from God's probing and transforming, we cannot begin the walk of the saint. Naturally this examination is in the light and mirror of grace. We can begin to see how we fail and through grace we can ask that God touch and heal those places so that through time that fault becomes less.

I do want to become a saint. I want it for a great many mixed reasons, some good, many bad. But the desire, the longing to know God face to face, is a gift from Him. It is an undeniable grace, and having been given it, I would be less that grateful and less than saintly were I not to act upon it. I act upon it most effectively when I do so least consciously. Self-conscious saints (in the way we understand the term self-consciousness) seem to be an oxymoron. Normally we think of saints as selfless, but I would say rather that they participate in the great Self and this cannot happen if you choose to separate yourself in a self-conscious way.

The long and the short of it is, that God grants the longing to be with Him. He will use, I think, almost any motive and turn it to good. (I must trust and rely upon this as I know many of my motives are poor.) He calls us to sanctity and He lifts us to sanctity and while there is much that we can do to cooperate, there is nothing we can do to speed the process on its way. God will accomplish in His own time His own ends if we open the door and allow Him in. Sainthood is not ever on my own terms, as I have recently been reminded, but always on His. I just need to make up my mind that His terms are good enough. In so doing, I will begin to see just how good they are.

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6 Comments

Does it have to be on God's terms. I want to be a saint on my terms and on my timetable(please note the whine as I say this!)!

As a girl, oh about 16 or so, years before I became a catholic, I read some lives of the saints in a book- they were near-contemporary biographies on St. Ambrose, St. Martin of Tours, St. Augustine (not his autobiography). And I was impressed with their sanctity, and thought, as a teen does, that that was really cool (one of the steps on my conversion, no doubt.)

Then I read St. Therese's autobiography, and the seed was planted. I wanted to be a saint. It was a seed that got buried somewhat, in my search for truth, dealing with everyday life, love, education...you would have never guessed that seed was planted. It didn't look like fertile ground - not quite desert, more like wetlands! God let his seeds get planted in me young, and then let me experiment many years with alternative paths, before they started to take off.
Sometimes, I think God lets us see the worth of being holy without really knowing why we want to be there. If the seed blooms, he will refine it til it's purpose is where he wants it.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer to Eberhard Bethge, July 20, 1944:

"We were asking ourselves quite simply what we wanted to do with our lives. He (Jean Laserre) said he would like to become a saint (and I think itís quite likely that he did become one). At the time I was very impressed, but I disagreed with him, and said, in effect, that I should like to learn to have faith. For a long time I didnít realize the depth of the contrast. I thought I could acquire faith by trying to live a holy life, or something like that. I suppose I wrote The Cost of Discipleship at the end of that path. Today I can see the dangers of that book, though I still stand by what I wrote.

"I discovered later, and Iím still discovering right up to this moment, that it is only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith. One must completely abandon any attempt to make something of oneself, whether it be a saint, or a converted sinner, or a churchman (a so-called priestly type!), a righteous person or an unrighteous one, a sick person or a healthy one. By this-worldliness I mean living unreservedly in lifeís duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities. In so doing we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously, not our own sufferings, but those of God in the world Ė watching with Christ in Gethsemane. That, I think, is faith; that is metanoia; and that is how one becomes human and a Christian (cf. Jer. 45!)."

Thanks.

Neil

___In so doing we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously, not our own sufferings, but those of God in the world Ė watching with Christ in Gethsemane____

What a wonderful image...I imagine sometimes, all the griefs and sorrows and hurts we pile upon Jesus by our actions, and then how often we turn around and blame God....And yet, does not Jesus look out at us in the eyes of those who suffer, those who need, those who hurt. Is he not Emmanuel, God with us?

The transforming fire and the witness, the companion along the way who holds our hands and the potter who molds us if we let him. Deo Gratias!

St. Teresa and Avila in her childhood planned to run of to become a martyr to the Moors but a uncle (I believe) intercepted her. We all start with motives that are mixed and the life of holiness means realizing that and slowly removing those motives that are mistaken.

Ultimately I see my goal as loving God for God alone. Not for any grace that I might receive, not for the myriad blessing involved in following Christ (and the plentiful crosses). Not for the fear of hell. While I will never receive the purity of this goal in this life if I can slowly crawl forward I will be happy. Maybe the hardest part of this moving forward is trusting in God to bring me forward.

Steven,
Your thoughts are mine too. I feel it is my holding back my "yesses", my fear of God's way not being my way. I think the remedy is not to worry so much about the whys, hows and wherefores of the future. Without such concerns about the future, I find it far easier to place all my trust in God's forgiveness and mercy for me a sinner -- and on my part, to simply say Yes to all the littlest things of life that God is asking of me. "Not what I want, but what You, O Lord, want of me." Nope, I'm not going out of my way to find God's will; it's staring me in the face every moment of my life.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on July 27, 2004 5:33 AM.

Prayer Requests 27 July 2004--Tuesday, Week 17 Ordinary Time was the previous entry in this blog.

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