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In the first Freshman English class of the semester, the teacher stated, “Let us establish some examples about opposites. Timothy, what is the opposite of joy?”
“Sadness,” said the student.
And the opposite of depression, Rachel?”
“Elation,” she replied with a smile.
And you, Johnny, what is the opposite of woe?”
“I believe that would be ‘giddy up’”
Scripturally speaking, the opposite of “woe” is “blessed,” and we heard those beautiful words, “Blessed are you,” but as beautiful as those words are, today is our celebration of All Saints, so instead of focusing on the words, we focus on those who heard the words and followed the one who spoke them.
There are approximately 7.5 billion people living in the world today out of the approximate 107 billion that have ever been born. Of those 107 billion, only about 10,000 have been classified by the church as capitol “S” saints: St. Mary, St. Matthew, St. Julian and so on. That’s roughly one saint per 10,700,000 people born. So, the question for you today is: what are the odds of you becoming a Saint?
For me, I go along with what Brennan Manning said in The Ragamuffin Gospel: “When I get honest, I admit I am a bundle of paradoxes. I believe and I doubt, I hope and get discouraged, I love and I hate, I feel bad about feeling good, I feel guilty about not feeling guilty. I am trusting and suspicious. I am honest and I still play games. Aristotle said I am a rational animal; I say I am an angel with an incredible capacity for beer.” I prefer Scotch, but you get the point. I consider the odds 1/10,700,000 and think, it could happen, but if we’re being honest…. My one consolation is that I know I have a much better shot at it than you lot.
Perhaps, instead of asking “Who will become a Saint?” we should ask, “Who should strive to become a Saint?” It might seem a bit bold to us, but many of the great Saints purposely described themselves as working to become saints and some went as far as to predict that they would. St. Joseph Cafasso writes, “I would be the happiest of men if I could become a saint soon and a big one.” Blessed Mary Fortunata Viti says, “I am fortunate to be given this opportunity to become a saint. I want to become a saint” and St. Margaret of Cortona says, “A time will come when you will call me a saint, and you will go on a pilgrimage to my tomb with the staff and wallet of a pilgrim.” This might seem to negate that whole idea of humility we see in the saints, but instead it is pointing to the fact that they took seriously Christ’s command to “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect,” and in doing so, they are blessed.
Thomas Merton in his autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, describes a rather remarkable conversation that he had with his friend Robert Lax. Apparently they were arguing over something as they walked when finally Robert stopped and turning to Merton asked, “What do you want to be, anyway?” Merton had a few poor answers in his mind when he finally said, “I don’t know; I guess what I want is to be a good Catholic.” Robert responded, “What do you mean you want to be a good Catholic? What you should say… what you should say is that you want to be a saint.” “How do you expect me to become a saint?” Robert’s response.. “By wanting to.” Merton said, “I can’t be a saint.” Remembering the mood of this conversation, years later, Merton wrote, “my mind darkened with a confusion of realities and unrealities: the knowledge of my own sins, and the false humility which makes men say that they cannot do the things that they must do, cannot reach the level that they must reach: the cowardice that says: ‘I am satisfied to save my soul, to keep out of mortal sin,’ but which means, by those words: ‘I do not want to give up my sins and my attachments.’” In their conversation, his friend Robert continued, “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.” The following day, looking for a way out, Merton told another friend, “[Robert] is going around saying that all a man needs to be a saint is to want to be one.” His friends response, “Of course.” Of course! All you have to do to become a saint is to want to be one.
You’ll remember from a few weeks ago, we talked about how God’s love pulls us up out of those places of sin where he finds us. He pulls us out, because he wants more for us, and in pulling us out of those places, he calls us into another, a place where we can strive to become that one person in 10,700,000. And before you say, “I can’t,” consider the words of Thomas Merton when he said he couldn’t. You see, when we say we can’t, it is because we become painfully aware of our sins. We are confronted with those things in our own lives that we are often unwilling to change in order to be more saint-like.
Become a saint! I can’t. Why? Because of pride, gluttony and anger? Then learn humility, moderation and forgiveness. If you did those things would you then be a saint? Probably not, but you might be a step closer.
Is this an easy task? Of course not! and for many reasons, but near the top of the list of difficulties is the necessity to turn our critical eye toward ourselves, because this battle is not one that is out there, but in here. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”
You will never reach saint in this life and you may never receive the title “Saint,” with a capitol “S”, but that is no reason to not continuously and faithfully strive for it. St. John Vianney wrote, “We must never lose sight of the fact that we are either Saints or outcasts, that we must love for Heaven or for Hell; there is no middle path in this.” Don’t be satisfied with being one who enters heaven “as one escaping through the flames” instead, put up a good fight and strive to hear those words, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” Strive to become one in 10,700,000. Strive to be blessed.
Let us pray: Almighty and Everlasting God, who enkindles the flame of Your love in the hearts of the saints, grant to us the same faith and power of love; that, as we rejoice in their triumphs we may profit by their examples, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.