Friday, January 11, 2013

Being a Saint in Bite-Sized Pieces

You cannot be half a saint; 
you must be a whole saint or no saint at all.
- St. 
Therese of Lisieux
The need for reform in the Church is something that ebbs and flows. Depending on historical circumstances, the need for serious change can be great in some times while at other times it is less so.

However, there is virtually never a time in which there is no need for reform in the Church because although the Church is the Body of Christ, it is also composed of weak human beings who make mistakes. As sinful humans, each one of us is in need of reform and this individual need for reform translates regularly into a need for the breath of the Spirit in the Church as a whole.

Thankfully, we can always trust that the founder of the Church, Jesus Christ, is right here with us, in the middle of the messes we create for ourselves, guiding our Church as our head, through its structural skeleton and leaders, the hierarchy. But all of us, including each member of the hierarchy, is constantly in need of renewal and transformation in Christ. This is why Cardinal Dolan told the USCCB at their General Assembly last November that personal renewal, especially confession, should be a priority for bishops.

This is true for all Christians, in order to speak the Gospel, we must make it our goal to be constantly renewed in Jesus. We must become saints. It is imperative. We constantly undermine the message of the Gospel with our sins. This is a humbling reality, but one that God works through nonetheless.

So, as the Church experiences reforms through the centuries, we too can relate to this need for reform. Every day, we experience ebbs and flows. Ups and downs. Sometimes, we are caught in the downs for days, weeks, months. But inside, we have an interior push for perfection. Perfection not in the sense of stuffing it all in, pasting a smile on our face and pretending the world is rosy. No, perfection in God's sense of the word.

Perfection in love.

How can we strive to be saints? Just the thought of it makes me tired. I am so imperfect, and there is really so much work to be done. But, I tend to think of my life as I think of the Church over the centuries. I think of the many years I likely have in front of me and I just don't have the will or the stamina to even try to become a saint. The thing is, as one wise nun once pointed out to me, God's grace is not in the future. It is in the right now. So, what if we focused on being a saint now? And now? And how about now?

Our days are generally in need of reform, they have their own ups and downs, moment of laxity and moments of fervor. What if we approached perfection in love in bite-sized pieces of reform?

I am going to be a saint during breakfast.

I am going to be a saint as I walk down the stairs.

I am going to be a saint as I greet that person who was rude to me yesterday.

Without worrying about keeping it up, without fearing consistency, what if we just tried to be saints in the now. Forgetting our failures, letting go of our humiliations, allowing our moods to change like children, never holding on to our bad moments, forgiving ourselves and moving on. Like Peter after he denied Jesus, we just need to keep on trying, instant by instant, being gentle with ourselves and begging God to reform us in the moment. And when we fail, we brush ourselves off and try again, the very next moment.

How about starting now? Or now?

You can be a saint now, as long as you truly love God. - Blessed James Alberione


Anonymous said...

Great article, Sr Theresa
"Be yourself, everyone else is taken" - Oscar Wilde.
I think being oneself is key. Just being the wonderful, unique person God created us to be. And what delight he took in that. Charles Dickens must have got a tingle when he created Sam Weller, Jane Austen: Emma, Cervantes: Don Quixote. Think of the Heavenly "tingle" Christ experienced when He created Francis of Assisi, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross and every single human being in history.
And i think being a saint isn't just being our wonderful unique selves (including humour / wit / personality and so on) but, also, sharing in some profound and mysterious way in the Cross of Christ (sacrificial love / humility / obedience and so on).
And recognising that without God - everything, including just breathing the air around us, let alone things like loving those we find hard to love and so on - is impossible without Him (but at the same time, He invites us to participate, cheerfully and with character, in some mysterious way, in divine grace. I think ..
Ed (UK)

Anonymous said...

"Avay with melincholly, as the little boy said ven his school-missis died" - Sam Weller

Anonymous said...

Last comment (apologies for hogging your comments) the person in history (say last millenium) who i think had the greatest personality, combined with with wit, charm, the human touch (you know that thing that no theologian can describe, you just know it when you see it ..) was a woman, and she wasn't an actress (and i don't mean that derogatively) or a writer of culture of a socialite etc but a nun - St Theresa of Avila! Truly someone who was herself. But a personality who took as seriously as any other great saint, the mission, cross and suffering of Christ (and of others).
And although St Therese of Liseaux didn't have the sort of charming, wit and salty personality of Teresa of Avila, she had a great sort of gentleness and sweetness about her (although she certainly wasn't sugary or saccharine and she definetly had character but in a different way to Teresa of Avila).
Ss Teresa, Therese, Francis and John (of the Cross): pray for us.

Pam Manners said...

Well written. This is a wonderful post, and I love how you did indeed break down the challenge of being a saint these days into bite-sized pieces. Thank you for that.

I look forward to the honesty & insight of your posts.

Grace & peace,

Jane said...

Beautiful and inspiring, Sr. Theresa. It reminded me of this powerful quote that changed my life from from Peter Kreeft's "How to Win the Culture War":

Can you imagine what twelve more Mother Teresas would do for the world? Can you imagine what would happen if just twelve readers of this article offered Christ 100% of their hearts and held back nothing, absolutely nothing?

No, you can’t imagine it, any more than anyone could imagine how twelve nice Jewish boys could conquer the Roman Empire. You can’t imagine it, but you can do it. You can become a saint. Absolutely no one and nothing can stop you. It is your free choice.

Here is one of the truest and most terrifying sentences I have ever read (from William Law’s Serious Call): 'If you will look into your own heart in complete honesty, you must admit that there is one and only one reason why you are not a saint: you do not wholly want to be.'

tagnes said...

@Ed - I love that quote from Oscar Wilde. He is one of my favorites... And I love the thought of God delighting in us.

@Pam - Thank you!

@Jane - Peter Kreeft talks about this all the time and he is so right on. This is what the Church needs. We so often spend more time pointing fingers than focusing on what really matters - becoming saints!

Anonymous said...

@Sr Theresa,
Today i laughed because i read today that Isaac means "laughter". And the reason he was called Isaac was because his father Abraham laughed when aged 100 he heard that his 90 year old wife would become pregnant. Who wouldn't laugh!
This laughter is not the same as the proud laughter of the word. But laughter at the incongruity in life and how God has power over everything to produce wonderful results beyond our wildest dreams.
And i guess this laughter and sense of humour are the same things. Also, St Theresa of Avila was famous for her laughter (this type of laughter). For her sense of humour. I can't remember the quote but she said - something like - grim faced Christians scared her more than the devil even. And i think this "grimness" / lack of humour is closely tied in with being judgmental / condemnatory / Pharisee-like towards others.
And St Francis and the Franciscans are renowned for their humor.
Ed (UK)

Sr. Lorraine said...

It's so true that we can only grow toward holiness moment by moment.
All we have is the present moment. And each moment well-lived makes for a life well-lived.
A little bit of progress each day eventually adds up into something great.

Anonymous said...

I'm just thinking, there is a danger in wanting to become a saint in that we can become over self-conscious about it.
Rather to focus on Christ - all the time. Who He is (His nature is infinite). Carrying out His will. Loving Him mystically. Then holiness, saintliness, grace, spiritual joy and peace, and ultimately - please God - salvation flows from this.
So at the back of our minds we should try and be saints. But at the front of our minds - always conscious of- should be Jesus.
(i know this might seem obvious but it's so easy - at least for me - to slip into trying to be saints by our own efforts - at least ahead of Jesus rightful role in making us saints - where we try and acquire saintliness by our own efforts, ultimately, so that saintliness becomes a sort of trophy - the other danger is to think that once we
believe and follow Christ that we're automatically "saints" and can just sit back and relax and take it easy).
Ed (UK)

Anonymous said...

Sorry, lastly (apologies, again, for monopolising your comments ..), when we go through Dark Night of the Soul, where we might find it hard to discern God, it's a case of trust / courage, but battling on in believing that we have this faith in God (whatever faith exists) because of grace, above all - and not putting it down to, ultimately, our own efforts. On the other hand, that trust and courage also involve us saying "yes" and following the example of Christ on the Cross of carrying on (because we believe it is God's will) despite all the doubt and uncertainty atthe time.

Please don't allow me to take centre stage. If you think my points are wrong / need fine-tuning, please do so (you'll be helping me and others).

Ed (UK)

tagnes said...

@Ed - I completely agree, becoming saints is not about us or our effort. God does 99.9% of the work. But we do give our free assent and that little .1% of the work on our side is crucial. Centering our lives on God is a work of the will. God can give us the grace but only if we ask and only if we really want it. I think of this moment to moment work of the will like a dance between us and God. God leads but if we try our best to follow (and not step on His feet) it makes a difference!

Ashlyn said...

Sister Teresa,
It is mere coincidence I came across this blog post. I was wondering if I could feature this little post on an online Catholic teen magazine?

Thank you! If I this is at all possible, please respond.

Thank you...I love your blog.

tagnes said...

Hi Ashlyn,

I tried to email you at: but the email was returned. If you send me an email where I can contact you we can discuss the possibility of using this article.

Thank you!

Sr. Theresa