Here’s a question to consider: do you, right now, have a plan, and are you working at it, so that one day you will become a saint?
Will someone someday want to make a painting or statue of you because of the way you lived your life? We risk misunderstanding the whole point of life if our goal, our plan, is not sainthood. The nineteenth-century French writer Léon Bloy wrote, “The only real sadness, the only real failure, the only great tragedy in life, is not to become a saint.”
A young man, who had just been diagnosed with cancer, made the point of saying, “You know, I live by goals. I’m very successful at my work because I always have goals in front of me. Goals drive me.” Now he realizes he needs new goals. “I need a goal to get through chemo; I need a goal to get through all the treatment. I need some goals that my wife and I can have in front of us going through this, like going on a vacation, celebrating an anniversary.” He’s right. And there’s nothing quite like cancer to wake you up to the fact that as important as all those other goals are, the only real goal, the only ultimate goal that we need to be focused on, is the Omega, which is sainthood. Sainthood is God’s hall of fame, and it’s within your reach. The grace is a given. All it takes is our work and our cooperation with it.
Saints respond to the needs that they see in their time. If Elizabeth Ann Seton hadn’t responded to the need she saw, maybe we wouldn’t have Catholic schools in our country today. If Solanus Casey hadn’t responded to the call of God in his life, perhaps tens of thousands of people would never have encountered the incredibly healing power of God and his love.
Centuries ago, there was a Spaniard named Iñigo who was one of thirteen children. He had no desire whatsoever for God and certainly no desire for holiness. Instead, he was obsessed with attaining personal glory. He was a womanizer, an expert dancer, and a very fancy dresser. His knee was blown apart in a battle, and because he didn’t like the way it had healed—a bone was sticking out and he wanted the ladies to still be attracted to him—he had it rebroken so that it would heal without the bump. While he was convalescing, he asked for some books to be brought to him to pass the time. The only two books available were one on the life of Christ and the other on the saints, so he read them.
And God broke in—and changed everything. The Lord showed him what real glory looks like, what real nobility, real manhood, and real courage looks like. Iñigo changed his name to Ignatius, after St. Ignatius of Antioch, one of the heroes of the early Church, and founded the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits). In the last five-hundred-plus years, literally hundreds of millions of people have come to encounter Jesus through his Spiritual Exercises.
But he’s gone now. So are Solanus Casey and Elizabeth Ann Seton. They have handed the baton to you and to me. And now it’s our turn. It’s our turn to fight the good fight; it’s our turn to run the race; it’s our turn to keep the faith. How do we do that?
There are no shortcuts for the next step. We have to take responsibility for what we’re going to do to respond. We have to come up with a plan, if you will, to accomplish the goal. So it is with sainthood. We need a business plan for sainthood. Now, that might sound strange. How do you plan sainthood? Well, Pope St. John Paul II says that you can. In a letter he wrote, Novo Millennio Ineunte (At the Beginning of the New Millennium), he says this:
Can holiness ever be “planned”? What might the word “holiness” mean in the context of a pastoral plan? . . . To ask catechumens: “Do you wish to receive Baptism?” means at the same time to ask them: “Do you wish to become holy?” It means to set before them the radical nature of the Sermon on the Mount: “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). As the Council itself explained, this ideal of perfection must not be misunderstood as if it involved some kind of extraordinary existence, possible only for a few “uncommon heroes” of holiness. The ways of holiness are many, according to the vocation of each individual. . . . The time has come to re-propose wholeheartedly to everyone this high standard of ordinary Christian living: the whole life of the Christian community and of Christian families must lead in this direction. (31)
So what does a plan to become a saint look like? This is something we can’t fudge; we have to write down a plan. Here is a series of things to think about. This is not an exhaustive list; it’s just a way to get us started:
Prayer. What do I consider greatness to look like in prayer? What do I think I need to do every day in terms of prayer to become a saint? Don’t ask the question, “Do I pray enough?” The answer is no—no one prays enough; it’s not possible. But ask, am I praying as much as I should be praying?
Scripture. There is no way I am able to let God form me if I don’t read his word. I have to let him form me, and he forms me through the Scriptures.
Service. Do I reach out of myself? Do I look to volunteer, whether it is in the parish, the local community, or with the poor?
Confession. Do I have as my goal getting to Confession once every two months? If that’s not on your list, I’d start there. And if you haven’t been to Confession in years, just come back. Just come back!
Mass. Obviously, we need to go to Sunday Mass. But ask yourself this: is it possible for me to achieve greatness when I am feeding on the Eucharist only once a week? Once we’ve really come to understand, objectively speaking, that the Eucharist is the greatest source of strength that we could ever encounter in our lives, why wouldn’t we want to come more often? Some of us can’t go to Mass more than once a week because of work. But maybe we can try to get there once during the week, in addition to Sunday. Many people who start coming during the week end up coming every day as they gradually realize, “I just can’t thrive without the Eucharist. I’m not strong enough. I used to think I was, but now I’ve come to realize otherwise.”
Sin. What are the one or two really significant obstacles in my life right now that are keeping me from reaching the goal of sainthood? How am I going to overcome those? Am I just going to say to myself, “Well, that’s just the way I am”? Or am I going to let the Lord change me?
Fasting. Do I ever fast? Jesus doesn’t say, “If you fast . . . ”; he says, “When you fast . . . ” What is my plan for fasting? Some of us can’t fast from food because of health reasons, but we can fast from something else, like the news or the time we spend looking at our computers or cell phones.
Alms. Do I give alms? Do I look at the resources that I have as a means by which I can share with the poor? Pope Francis is constantly reminding us of our obligation to do what we can to help the poor. He wants us not just to care for them so that they simply receive our mercy but, instead, to lift them up and set them on their feet and get them on their way. That’s what he’s encouraging us to do.
In the weeks ahead is to ask yourself, “Do I have a plan to become a saint?” And if you don’t, what is your plan going to look like? Then start working on it. Let’s do the work! You’ll be amazed at how helpful it is.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
1. What is the goal of your life? Have you ever thought that your goal should be to become a saint? Why or why not?
2. Who is your favorite saint and why? How might you emulate that saint?
3. Do you have a plan to become a saint? If so, what is it? If not, what might it include?
This is a selection from Heaven Starts Now by Fr, John Riccardo (The Word Among Us Press, 2016). Available online at wau.org/books