Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Do you Want to Be a Saint? Seven Saints for Seven Virtues

Do you want to be a saint?  
Do you think its something that is beyond your grasp? 
Something that only the perfect -- those who do amazing fasts and penances -- or only those who died heroically for Christ can achieve?  

If this is your idea of sainthood -- very few of us could pass the test.  

But, providentially, holiness doesn't consist in perfect behavior and it doesn’t necessarily include extreme penances or heroic bodily martyrdom. ... Holiness, instead, is at its essence -- a response to LOVE.  

Not any love, but LOVE, which is the most apt description of God that can be expressed in human language.  It is the core of Who God IS; Who He is in His very nature.  

Because God is LOVE, he cannot not love.  

To not love goes against His very self -- against His very core, His Being.  

To be holy, then, is to recognize and receive this LOVE that God has for us. The Father showed us the depth of His Love for us when He sent us His Only Begotten Son, Jesus, (a name that literally means God saves!) to redeem us by offering His Life for US -- for our salvation! (cf. Jn 3:16). 

Jesus is the Revelation -- the revealing -- of His Father's LOVE for us! 
It is the greatest revelation that Jesus shared with us.  His whole life is a revealing of this LOVE -- a manifestation -- a making present -- of what we could have never known on our own.  

Jesus' INCARNATION - His becoming flesh -- His taking on our body as His own -- is a sign of the immense dignity we have as human beings and the great heights that God has in mind for us!  For “God became man, so that we can become god” (St. Athanasius). This quote expresses the fact that God took our human nature when He became man, in order to raise it up and transform it by uniting it to His Divine Life. He died to free us from sin and death that kept us separated from Him, so that we could “live with Him, in Him and through Him in unity with the Holy Spirit”(cf. the concluding part of the Eucharistic Prayer, called the Per Ipsum).  He has no favorites.  He came to save all mankind -- loving each of us completely and uniquely; and desiring each of us to receive His love and allow its Beauty, Grace and Truth to transform our lives.

This is what being a saint is -- it is living in love with our God who created, redeemed, knows and loves us -- even to counting every hair on our head and every beat of our heart – to the very depth of our being (cf. Ps 139).  A saint is only a saint, therefore, in and through their relationship with God.  No matter where we come from, no matter what we've done, if we accept the unfathomable Love that God has for us and respond with love in return, we are living in union with God and thus living in holiness.  We think of saints as being only in heaven, but saints also are alive on earth. That's why the Church urges us on and reminds us that we are called to be saints.

All those in love long to be close to those they love.  Similarly, our love of God inspires a longing in us to be close to Him, to communicate with Him. This communication is called prayer.  Therefore, if we love God, we don't pray to fulfill an obligation, to “get it over with,” to keep us from hell or engage in it mindlessly or superstitiously.  If we understand that prayer is communicating with the Lover of our souls, we come to realize that we can share with Him our deepest joys, sufferings, fears and failures, recognizing that He did not come to judge but to save and to love us (cf. Jn 3:17).  The more we come to know Him, the more we that He alone understands us completely, loves us infinitely and unconditionally, and fulfills the deepest longings in our hearts.  Our understanding and love of God is deepened and grows through our relationship with Him, one that is nourished especially through the Mass, our greatest prayer.  Although our understanding deepens, it is in this understanding that we recognize that we can never fully“comprehend the breadth, the length, the height and depth of the fullness of the Love and Mercy of God” (cf. Eph 3:18), but we do experience a taste of His Presence, which is joy, peace and grace even in the midst of circumstances filled with sorrow and pain.

Thus, prayer is talking to God, and listening to Him.  Perhaps you are someone who struggles to hear God.  “That may be fine for other people, but I can't discern His voice,” you may insist.  I have, however, one sure-fire way to hear His voice! It is to read the Sacred Scriptures. The Bible not only shares the story of God and the immeasurable love He has for us; but, if we pray with and in the Scriptures, we can assured of hearing His voice, for the Bible is truly the Word of God – it is “living and effective” (Heb 4:12) and inspired by the Holy Spirit.  You may say, “But I don’t hear his voice when I read Scripture!” This is where our persistence in love and our virtue comes in; because much of the time, whether in Mass or when we pray with the Scriptures, we must remain rooted in love in order to hear the “still, small voice” of God (1 Kings 19:12) amidst the noise and busyness of our lives often drown out His whisper.  If we persist in love -- then, we, too, like Jeremiah, can say, “When I found your words, I devoured them; your words were my joy, the happiness of my heart” (Jer 15: 16).

It is our love of God (charity) that spurs us on to be patient, diligent and humble enough to persist in seeking Him, to persist in attending Mass and reading and rereading the Sacred texts asking the Holy Spirit to come alive in our understanding of Jesus and in what He is saying to us.  It is our love of God that is rooted in these virtues that enables us to wait upon Him, and to seek His Face even in silence and painful circumstances -- even when we experience dryness and there is no consolation. This is where Love comes in, because Love enables us to persevere in loving a person for who he is and not for what he can do for us. We do not pray in order to gain consolations and graces, but in order to grow in love and closeness to God. That is why Love is the means, the key and the goal of all we do. We will go nowhere in our spiritual lives if we only “love” a set of rules, or even the truth of our religion… the only way we will progress in holiness and in prayer is because we love a Person – Jesus Christ – Who lives and reigns within the Trinity of three Divine Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Whom He revealed to us by “pouring out His spirit in us, which cries out, ‘Abba, Father!’” (cf. 1 Jn 4: 19; Gal 4:6 emphasis mine).

Everything hinges, then, on LOVE --the first and the most vital virtue. 

If we have LOVE, then we long to give ourselves in love.  We long to give all of ourselves --our hearts, minds, bodies and spirits as pure offerings to God as they were first intended to be at our creation (this is the virtue of chastity) in order to see, recognize and respond to His Beauty, Goodness and Truth amid the clamoring and blaring voices that push us toward false and superficial counterfeits of His Real LOVE.  

We must practice kindness with ourselves and be patient, diligent and humble with our frailty and our faulted, sinful human nature so that we never tire of beginning again.  So that we never tire of striving for union, or of confessing our sins in order to live in closeness to God, who is always willing to forgive us.

No one can live a sinless life -- we must be humble with ourselves (and others) -- not only in accepting this fact, but also in clinging to who we are in Christ – recognizing that we are members of His Body and temples of the Holy Spirit by virtue of our baptisms.  Humility isn’t thinking less of ourselves – it is thinking the Truth of ourselves – which is to recognize that although we are faulted, we remain God’s beloved sons and daughters who have an everlasting inheritance awaiting us if we respond in love to God.

Responding to this LOVE finds its roots in prayer and is expressed in action.  Both prayer and action are means of growing closer to and becoming more like our Beloved Savior. And as expressed in our reflections on prayer, our actions, likewise, are steeped in struggle and frailty; and therefore, can only be pursued by persisting in the virtues named above.  These virtuous habits enable us to persevere when our feelings of love fade.  They carry us beyond our feelings into true sacrificial love – which leads us closer to God, strengthens our union with Him, and enables us to become more like Him. 

Jean Heimann’s wonderful new book, Seven Saints for Seven Virtues, holds up these virtues, and shares true stories of people who recognized and responded to God’s love by entering deeply into communion with Him in and through prayer. True prayer leads us to share in Jesus’ Divine Life, which overflows out of our union with God into an abundant life of love and fruitfulness. To illustrate this, Heimann showcases two different kinds of saints:  one that is recognized by the Church, and one that is unrecognized.  Both of whom lived (or are living) lives rooted in virtue and exemplify this overflowing of grace that comes from communion with God.  In particular, Heimann writes about seven saints and seven virtues for us to emulate.  They include:

Mother Teresa of Calcutta: Model of Charity
St. Agnes: Model of Chastity
St. John Paul II: Model of Diligence
St. Joseph: Model of Humility
St. Catherine of Siena: Model of Kindness
St. Monica: Model of Patience
St. Augustine: Model of Temperance

Interesting and profound anecdotes can be found frequently within the pages of this beautiful book, serving as practical examples of holy men and women living these virtues.  It was these stories that especially touched my heart.  Reading stories of virtue can inspire us to continue striving for this union with God that is expressed so uniquely in each of the ordinary lives that Heimann shares with us in her book. To put the premise of the book in my own words, would be to say that this book was written to demonstrate that ordinary people can become extraordinary through accepting and embracing God’s love so deeply and interiorly, that they can say with St. Paul: “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2: 20).

I shared previously in another postthe story that touched me most deeply.  But, to highlight other gems in this book, I will share two insights which were shared from Mother Teresa’s writings.  These beautifully highlight that her love was something that went far beyond any feeling of consolation.  Rather, her love for God (and for others in Him) was one deeply rooted in Christ's love and was a response to this love. Her holiness, therefore, came from her continual choice to love, seek, accept and live rooted in this communion of LOVE, (which all of us are called to, for God shows no partiality).

This first passage comes from Mother Teresa’s diary.  It expresses the pain and struggle that accompanied the early years of founding her new order, and perfectly exemplifies the practice of virtues in her love of Christ:

“Today I learned a good lesson.  They poverty of the poor must be so hard for them. While looking for a home I walked and walked till my arms and legs ached.  I thought how much they must ache in body and soul, looking for a home, food and health.  Then the comfort of Loreto [her former order] came to tempt me. ‘You have only to say the word and all that will be yours again,’ the Tempter kept on saying... Of free choice, my God, and out of love for you, I desire to remain and do whatever be your Holy will in my regard.  I did not let a single tear come.”

Another passage from Mother Teresa’s writings express that our ultimate means of achieving communion with God is through the Eucharist:

“Where will you get the joy of loving?  --- in the Eucharist, Holy Communion.  Jesus has made Himself the Bread of Life to give us life.  Night and day, he is there.  If you really want to grow in love, come back to the Eucharist, come back to that adoration….
See Him in the tabernacle; fix your eyes on him who is the light; bring your hearts close to His Divine Heart; ask Him to grant you the grace of knowing Him, the love of loving Him, the courage to serve Him.  Seek Him fervently.”

To summarize, Jean Heimann writes beautifully about the virtues and about those who exemplified the virtues in their lives.  Sharing with her readers that those who have journeyed before us were not superhuman “plaster paris” saints, but real human beings like us, who did great things because they accepted and responded to God’s love concretely and devotedly -- choosing to stay close to Him in prayer and the Sacraments amid trials, struggles and dryness.  This love they manifest is, first of all, a grace of God; but their response (and ours) to this grace is practically worked out in our lives by living lives filled with the virtues of charity, chastity, diligence, humility, kindness, patience and temperance, which we gain through cooperating with the Holy Spirit at work in our lives.  (Thankfully, we can never do anything truly on our own!)

So, if you are interested in growing in virtue and enjoy hearing stories of holiness shining forth in concrete, day-to-day circumstances of life, I believe you’ll greatly enjoy and be inspired by this wonderful book. 

And as an added bonus, Servant Books has graciously offered 2 FREE COPIES of this book for me to give away to my readers.  If you are interested in receiving one of these copies, please send your complete name and mailing address to my email.  The contest will end on 10-29-2014.  The winners will be awarded this inspirational book free of charge. 

Good Luck!

Copyright Janet Moore 10-22-14

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