When I was little, my understanding of the Saints was that they were Catholic celebrities. I didn’t really understand the canonization process, or even why the Church declared individuals as Saints. I just thought they were good people who got a lot of attention because of how holy they were. I wanted to be a Saint, because I wanted to be famous, and I actually kind of felt guilty about that because even my seven-year-old self could recognize the fact that I only wanted attention. So I stopped pursuing “sainthood.”
As I got older, this understanding developed further. I learned that the Church canonized Saints as a help for those of us who were still alive. Through the necessary miracles of the canonization process, the Church receives Divine confirmation that these individuals have made it to Heaven. The canonization is simply the Church’s formal recognition of this fact. This public process is to help all believers on their own journey towards heaven. By holding these people in esteem and placing them in the public-eye, the Church aims to provide more examples of holiness for us to follow. Believers can identify with these Saints, and know that if we live our lives in a similar manner, we can make it to heaven too.
Growing up, I was an avid reader and I had a lot of Saint books. Most of the Saints I learned about had these incredible life stories, and were almost unusual in their ability to do good. By that, I mean to say that these books highlighted their good qualities, and all the things that they had accomplished spiritually. I thought these individuals were born with their halos… that they were predestined for goodness. To me, the only explanation for their spiritual perfection was that they were privy to some exclusive form of grace. I loved them, and tried to imitate them, but I never thought I could actually be one of them.
It wasn’t until I was eighteen that something finally clicked. I was reading an excerpt of John Paul II’s “Message to Youth” on the 15th Anniversary of World Youth Day. “Young people of every continent,” he said, “…do not be afraid to be the saints of the new millennium!” I remember reading that and thinking, “Wait, what? Me? Anyone can be a saint? I can be a saint?” I didn’t fully understand how, but a spark of hope was lit. I was drawn to my faith like never before. I wanted answers. It was pursuing those answers that have gotten me to where I am today… alive in my faith, in love with my Lord, and desiring to share this knowledge with others
Now, I get it. I understand the Church’s universal call to holiness. It isn’t a call to do massively incredible things for the Church. It isn’t (necessarily) a call to religious life. It isn’t a call to strive to one day be canonized either. The universal call to holiness is simply a call to love. To real love. To love every person you encounter. To love in every single moment. To love yourself. To love God.
Jesus tells his disciples, “be perfect, just as my Heavenly Father is perfect….” Blindly, I once thought this was a call to never err… I thought Jesus didn’t want me to make mistakes. I was wrong… the Heavenly Father is perfect because he is love. This is a call to perfection is a call to be perfect in love… in all that we do. It is in love (the person and the action) that our sanctity lies.
The Church exists for the sake of bringing grace into the world… and what is grace if not God’s lifeblood? Everything about our faith exists to help us in this quest for love. Every prayer, every sacrament, every devotion, every sacramental is a plea for grace… a plea for the ability to know love, and to be loving.
St. Therese of Lisieux, though already a religious sister, spent hours praying to know her vocation. She wanted to know how and where God wanted her to dedicate all of her efforts. When it was finally revealed to her, she wrote in her diary, “My vocation is to love.” Mother Teresa, who took her name in honor of both the Little Flower as well as St. Teresa of Avila, is probably one of the greatest Saints of the 20th century. The whole world knew who she was, and everything she had accomplished for the people in Calcutta, and yet she insists, “we can do no great things, only small things with great love.” It was her dedication to serving others with this “great love” that lead her to accomplishing great things. The same is true for every Saint. The same is true for us.
While the truth is simple, Satan likes to complicate things. He loves to confuse us and shift our focus, and through all his efforts, he often succeeds in over-complicating our understanding of the pursuit of holiness. So today, I’m here to remind you that the focus is really very simple. Let everything you do be done in love… and if you fail to love, seek grace through a sacrament, a rosary, a holy hour etc. We do not exist for these things. These things exist for us to help us learn to be perfect in love.
Now, making the focus simpler does not mean that becoming holy is easy. If it was easy to love perfectly, than Jesus wouldn’t have described the path as narrow. Love demands sacrifice, and sacrifice is painful. The sacraments are like our vitamins and pain medication… there to help us through the pain.
This week, Catholic Box and I have teamed up to bring you a giveaway inspired by this idea of love and sainthood. The winner will receive a one-of-a-kind print of John Paul II, a book about his life, a magnetic medal of St. Benedict from Catholic Car Magnet, a holy card of St. Therese that was blessed by Pope Francis, a rosary made from the petals of pressed roses, some water from the spring in Lourdes, France. If you’re interested in entering, check out The Swap or Catholic Box on Instagram later this afternoon for details! Winner will be announced on Friday. Sign up for SwapMail and receive 5 extra entries! Current subscribers are automatically entered.