Turmoil and uncertainty seem to rule 2020. I’ve wondered countless times, “What is going on?” and “What is going to happen next?” and “Is humanity beyond hope?” How quickly external unrest can seep into our interior lives as well.
It’s easy to be sucked in to thinking that we are living in the worst of times. But a simple look at history offers a strange sort of consolation – times have been terrible before at varying levels and in varying ways. There have been plagues, political unrest, disrespect for human life, sexualization of little girls, corrupt hierarchy, violence, etc. throughout human history. Evil has pervaded every civilization since the dawn of time.
But evil doesn’t get the last word. When times have been darkest, God has raised up the brightest saints. St. Francis of Assisi, St. Catherine of Sienna, St. Aloysius Gonzaga, St. Edith Stein, and many others lived during turmoil and uncertainty. Perhaps in 2020, He’s raising up you and me.
The saint’s response to hatred and hopelessness is a heart full of love and hope. Instead of being another voice shouting “Cancel 2020!” Let us proclaim, “Convert in 2020!” We can combat the temptation to despair. In doing so, peace will overflow from our hearts to the world around us.
Like all my best ideas, I didn’t come up with this one on my own. Pope St. John Paul II prophetically said,
“Do not be afraid to be the saints of the new millennium! Be contemplative, love prayer; be coherent with your faith and generous in the service of your brothers and sisters, be active members of the Church and builders of peace. To succeed in this demanding project of life, continue to listen to His Word, draw strength from the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Penance. The Lord wants you to be intrepid apostles of his Gospel and builders of a new humanity.”
Notice, that while we might want to be saints by going out right away to fix society’s problems, JPII is exhorting us to first go within. “Be contemplative, love prayer.” We won’t fix anything if we don’t start there. Sainthood is the fruit of prayer.
How easy to see the problems “out there.” How difficult to weed out the problems within. This is why St. Josemaria Escriva’s three-step plan to sanctity is, “First, prayer; then, atonement; in the third place, very much ‘in the third place’, action.” When we get this right, it is not I going out to fix a broken world, but Christ who lives within me. Then I am enabled to be “little pencil in the hand of a writing God, who is sending a love letter to the world.” (St. Mother Teresa)
How God wants to write each person’s love letter to the world is unique. Rooted in prayer, we can rightly discern how He can best bring about our salvation and the salvation of others. This will look different for each of us.
“When you hung upon the Cross looking at me, You didn't die so I would try to be somebody else, You died so I could be the saint that is just me.” Danielle Rose, The Saint That Is Just Me
The lives of the saints are beautiful, and thank God for them, because they inspire us and point us on the road to Heaven. We should try to emulate their saintliness while remembering that we aren’t called to holiness in exactly the same way. There already was a St. Catherine, so there doesn’t need to be another exact one. St. Francis already lived, worked, and died serving the Church, so God doesn’t call any of us to be him either.
God doesn’t ask us to be saints precisely the way that others have been saints. Instead, He gives us a particular mission and particular gifts necessary to fulfill that mission. He places us in exactly our moment of history to build up His kingdom here and now. It’s important (and slightly overwhelming) to realize that in the many years since the creation of man, and through those that will pass until the end of time, there has never been and never will be another me. So my focus shouldn’t be, “how can I be exactly like another saint?” Rather, I must ask, “how does Jesus want me to be a saint?”
The desire to live a life just like the great saints resonates with me since I often compare myself to other people. Reading inspiring saint stories tugs at my heart, and I begin to hope and pray that I too can reach their level of sanctity. For example, I recently read about a saint who took cold baths as a penance. I cherish a nightly warm shower, so one day I tried to use only cold water when rinsing out my child’s poopy pants instead. I couldn’t hack it. I had to add hot water. Worried that cold-bath-saint might scoff at me in heaven, I recounted the event to my spiritual director. He encouraged me to recognize the penance of rinsing a poopy diaper in and of itself. The littleness of my sacrifice was an invitation to humility. Maybe I’m called to be the patron saint of the poopy diaper?!
In her autobiography, St. Therese writes about this longing to be like all the saints, “Jesus, if I wanted to write all my desires, I would have to take your Book of Life, where the deeds of your saints are recorded: all these deeds I would like to accomplish for you.” She expresses her desire to be all things for Christ because she desires to serve Him with reckless abandon in every possible way. As she continues reflecting, however, she realizes that “O Jesus, my Love, at last I have found my vocation, my vocation is Love!... Yes, I have found my place in the Church, and it is you, O my God, who have given me this place... in the heart of the Church, my Mother, I will be Love!”
St. Therese realizes that she cannot practically, as a cloistered nun, perform all of the mighty deeds performed by other saints. What she discerns is that her vocation is love. In her small corner of the world, she resolves to live love. How different would our world look if everyone made that same resolve?
This call to be Saint Me is much more personal than the call to sainthood in general. If I imagine, as the above song suggests, Christ hanging on the cross looking right at me. If I imagine Him saying, “Annie, here I am, dying for you. Follow me. Will you be my saint?” suddenly the call to sainthood becomes more personal. It also becomes more demanding. We can’t write off sainthood saying we don’t have what it takes when we realize that a call to sainthood is a call to become the holiest version of ourselves.
May all of us be rooted in prayer and continually converted within the inner recesses of our souls. May we be conduits of peace and hope in a world full of turmoil and uncertainty. May we discern our unique call as Saint Me and follow that call from here to heaven. Amen.