Thursday, June 16, 2011

Straight to Heaven: Tips on becoming a Saint

When all the hustle and bustle of the day has quieted down and you finally have a moment to reflect on the day, on life, and on God, do you ever entertain the thoughts of becoming a Saint? Do you even think it’s possible? Among practicing Catholics, I would say most do not. Yet, the first step in becoming a Saint is believing that it is indeed possible. That’s right! You have to think big in order to be a Saint! The second step is equally simple: As St. Thomas Aquinas said, you have to will it! And believe it or not, if you have these first two steps down, you’re half way there.

The other half of the journey consists of things that are normally associated with being a Saint: an intense love for God and neighbor; devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary; frequenting of the sacraments; and being faithful to the teachings of the Catholic Church etc. However, there are other virtues and practices that set the Saints apart from other Christians. The difficulty with these qualities is that they run counter to the noise, indulgence, and the self-esteem driven society we live in. They are not so much opposed as they are ignored and deemed unrealistic.
Nevertheless, these are the marks of a Saint. With the belief that being a Saint is possible and the willingness to become a Saint, the practice of meditation, temperance, holy self-hatred, speaking highly of our neighbor and loving the poor will progress if we only persevere with God’s grace. They will free up the soul from worldly distractions so that obedience to God’s every directive can be realized without delay and without excuse. These five marks below played no small role in not only the sanctity of the Saints, but their ability to accomplish great things:

1. Meditation: Every Saint set aside time for spiritual reading and meditation everyday. In addition to assisting at Mass, praying as a family, or praying the Divine Office with a religious community, the Saints were emphatic on meditation in silence and in solitude. This is an absolute must if we want a closer union with Christ. Without it, we just superficially skim along the surface of life without plumbing the depths of its meaning, its mysteries, and its limitations.
Mediation simply consists of thinking about some sacred event or truth for a significant length of time; preferably a half & hour to an hour. It could be an aspect of the life of Christ, a teaching by St. Paul, an Old Testament story, or even a book by one of the Saints. Traditionally, the Saints included four basic parts to their meditation: 1. Preparation for meditation by choosing topic. 2. Thought about the sacred truth or even. 3. Being inspired to admire and adore Christ in light of this truth. 4. A specific resolution to living according to this truth that day or the next.

We need to keep in mind the Word of God is like the sun- the longer you sit before it, the more change it will effect in us. Each passage from Scripture is a like a present that needs to be opened and reopened again. For each time we open it, we are sure to find something new and beneficial. The fruits of this are that we come to see the world as it really is; we come to see ourselves as we really are; and most importantly, we come to see God as he really is. As such, the follower of Christ who has developed the habit of meditation is ready for anything- good or bad.

2. Not on bread alone: The diet of every Saint was very modest; at times scant. They rarely ate for its own sake; although they did enjoy certain foods and drinks. St. Padre Pio, for instance, had one beer a day. But his meals, as with other Saints, were just enough to keep his body going.

The virtue of temperance in eating food makes it much easier to be tempered in other areas of one’s spiritual and moral life. The sin of gluttony causes spiritual sluggishness. The virtue of temperance, on the other hand, quickens the soul to discipline and awareness. It reminds us that “man does not live on bread alone but on every word the proceeds from the mouth of God.”

The bottom line is that our body will expire and give way to corruption sooner or later. Eating less and fasting more is a testament and reminder of this. To be sure, the body needs to be maintained but the soul needs to grow everyday or else it regresses.

The Saints also understood that the key in unleashing the power of God is through prayer and fasting. St. John Vienney was consulted by another priest about attracting more souls to his parish. St. John simply asked him, "Do you do penances for them?" "No," the priest said. "Well," St. John said, "don’t expect much." Every Saint knew that the conversion of souls requires more than just words and prayers; it requires sacrifice. None knew more than St. Paul, for he said, “So death is at work in us, but life in you.” (II Corinthians 4:12) Indeed, dying to self is a powerful means of giving life to others.

3. Holy self-distrust: This virtue is practiced among all the Saints but in today’s self-esteem driven culture, it has never been less understood. Holy self-distrust does not consist of berating oneself or deploring one’s own existence, it is simply seeing who we really are in light of God. The fact is we had nothing to do with our own existence; God did not consult us nor did we do anything to bring it about; we were totally passive. Moreover, before we loved God, he first loved us. Whatever good thoughts we may conceive, whatever good words we may utter or whatever good deeds we may do, it is primarily due to the initiative of God’s power and grace. If a leaf does not fall to the ground without God’s permission, then certainly the next move we make can only happen with his consent.

The virtue of holy self-distrust also brings us down to reality in reference to our neighbor. It is a law of holiness in that the more we become holy, the less we know it. The same also applies to sin: the more we sin, the less we realize that we are sinful. So, as the light of divine grace increases within the soul- illuminating those dark corners that were previously overlooked -a man like St. Francis of Assisi could sincerely say that he was "the greatest of all sinners" without being the least bit phony. As with any Saint, the sins of St. Francis were right there for him to see. Never seeing himself as being blameless, he was free to bless his persecutors, free to compliment his critics, and free to make peace with those who wanted to do him violence.

The great irony of holy self-distrust is that those who practice this virtue not only know how to love, but they know peace and happiness like no other.

4. Speak no evil: Seeing the best in others and in the worst in ourselves is a virtue that stands out strongly among the Saints. From this, the maxim they observed was never say anything about a person in their absences if you are not willing to say it in their presence. Not only, therefore, did they not gossip and slander, but they admonished those who did.

The Body of Christ is such that the close bonds with one another should, as St. Paul said, cause us to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice. In other words, if a brother or sister in Christ has sinned, instead of it being a subject for discussion or gossip, it should be a reason for sadness. But our weak human nature- mostly because of pride –delights in the faults of others. And this is why the sin of gossip and slander is so common. We compare our own goodness or sinfulness with one another (instead of comparing ourselves with Christ) and by default there is a temptation to relish conversations about those who have been ranked lower than we.

However, the Saints always resisted this. If they did encounter people gossiping about a sinner, they often reminded the “gossipers” about some virtue or good quality of the person they were talking about. Indeed, the Saints had a keen awareness that as sons and daughters of God they had a duty to love every person simply because God, our heavenly Father, loves them so much. Gossip, then, believed to be incompatible with this love and hence was always avoided.

5. Love of the poor: Doctors and Fathers of the Church, even with all of their scholarly work and spiritual master pieces, found time to help the poor. For them, evangelization was a body and soul approach to the human person. No doubt, conversion, salvation and education held a higher priority than any bodily need. Nevertheless, ministering to the physical needs of people was never compartmentalized and radically set apart from evangelization as it is today.
For instance, the same St. Augustine who wrote classics such as, Confessions and City of God, is the same man who founded hospices for the sick and orphanages for abandoned children. Even Bishop Fulton Sheen, probably one of the greatest television evangelists of the twentieth-century, did mission work in third-world countries and donated much of the proceeds from his popular television show, Life is Worth Living, to the poor. He once said, “The poor need the rich for material reasons; but the rich need the poor for spiritual reasons.” When we give of ourselves to a person in need- be it a child, the sick, or the less fortunate –we come to know, by way of imitation, what God is like as the Creator and Giver of so many good things. And because our Lord Jesus identifies himself with the poor in a special way, when we give to the poor and love them, we give back to Christ who has given us everything.

Therefore, to be a Saint is to love the poor. It is my no means automatic that the imitation of this virtue leads to sanctity; but the perfection of sanctity can not be had without it.

Among many others, these are the virtues and practices that go into the making of a Saint. The more they progressed in these areas, the more willing they were to say yes to God in all things. Believing that being a Saint is possible and the willingness to be one yourself is indeed a big part of going straight to heaven. Once you’ve gotten this far, however, go the distance with the abovementioned virtues and practices and you just may actually do it: You just may become a Saint and go straight to heaven!