Friday, October 31, 2008

All that is necessary to be a saint is to want to be one

SOLEMNITY OF ALL SAINTS, November 1, 2008:

The famous mystic Benedictine, Thomas Merton, was once asked, “How does one become a saint?” He answered, “All that is necessary to be a saint is to want to be one. Don't you believe that God will make you what He created you to be, if you will consent to let Him do it? All you have to do is desire it.” Very often, when we think of the saints, we think of a way of life that for most – perhaps even for us – is unattainable. If someone spoke of us as a saint, we might say, “I could never be that.” But, that is exactly the wrong approach to sainthood and our Solemnity today of All Saints hopes to open our eyes to that fact that each and every one of us is called to be, one day, a part of that Communion of Saints in Heaven. “All that is necessary to be a saint is to want to be one.” And so, we must first desire to be saints, instead of saying to ourselves that sainthood is out of our reach.

Merton understood this so very well. Another wonderful statement from him about sainthood was this, He said, “For me to be a saint means to be myself. Therefore the problem of sanctity and salvation is in fact the problem of finding out who I am and of discovering my true self.”

So what does the word saint mean? Well, we often think of it in its formal sense as a title reserved for people who have lived such exemplary Christian lives that the church declares them to be in heaven. The Church’s official list of saints includes about 10,000 such people.
Let me share with you an excerpt from a letter written by one such saint. It is from St. Peter Claver who worked among black slaves in South America in the 17th Century. He wrote, “Yesterday, a great number of black people who had been seized along the African rivers were put ashore from one very large vessel. We hurried out with two baskets full of oranges, lemons, sweet biscuits and all sorts of things. We had to force our way through the crowds till we reached the sick. There was a great number of them, lying on damp earth, or rather mud. They were naked without any covering at all. We took off our cloaks, went to a store, brought from there all the wood that was available and put it together to make a platform; then, forcing a way through the guards, we eventually managed to carry all the sick to it. You should have seen the expression of gratitude in their eyes! In this way we spoke to them, not with words but with deeds. Any other form of address would have been pointless. Then we sat or knelt beside them and washed their faces and bodies.”

St. Peter Claver wasn’t a martyr; he didn’t spend his days in prayer; he didn’t spend his nights doing penance; didn’t have any visions; didn’t write any great books on religion. He was an ordinary person – just like you or me. The purpose of today’s solemnity is to honor people like Peter Claver and to hold them up to us as reminders and as inspirations. First, they remind us of our own calling to be a saint – to desire that sainthood. They remind us that we are called to live our lives in a way that after death we too will merit eternal life. Second, saints like Peter Claver inspire us. They show us that it is possible even for ordinary folks like us to be saints. Sainthood is not something beyond our reach.

Being a saint doesn’t mean imitating someone who was martyred centuries ago. Being a saint means imitating ordinary people who lived in ordinary times, much like our own. It means imitating people who laughed and cried, just as we do. It means imitating people who sinned and used the Sacrament of Reconciliation, just as we do. It means imitating people who tried again and sometimes sinned again, just as we do. If such people had anything extraordinary about them, it was that they never stopped trying to live each day in a gospel way; each day trying to discover who we are; our truest self - in the light of Christ.

This is what the Solemnity of All Saints is all about. It is about honoring people like Peter Claver; and the endless number of unnamed saints like our grandparents, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and friends who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith. And in the course of honoring them, we are reminded of our own calling to follow them in our own lives of saintliness in the ordinary moments of each day.

“All that is necessary to be a saint is to want to be one. Don't you believe that God will make you what He created you to be, if you will consent to let Him do it? All you have to do is desire it.”
May the saints who have gone before us pray for each one of us here that we may have courage to desire the holiness that God calls us to.

May God give you peace.

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