We’ve been reading Story of a Soul, the autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux, in formation recently. Now St. Therese knew she wanted to be a nun at age 2, asked to enter religious life before she was ten, and actually did enter the carmelite convent as a novice just after her fifteenth birthday- only after asking special permission from the Pope himself. At 15, I had my first boyfriend and was more interested in Seventeen magazine than The Imitation of Christ (a spiritual work Therese had memorized by that age). So for the first few chapters of our study, I thought the only thing Therese and I had in common is that I too was very interested in vocation at a young age. Only, she asked the Pope if she could enter a convent, and I asked Tyler if he would go to the homecoming dance with me.
Sometimes when I read about the lives of the Saints, I have one of two reactions. First comes, “This is AMAZING!” Here Therese and I have our second and maybe final similarity. As a young girl reading about the amazing life of Joan of Arc, Therese wrote, “I had the great desire to imitate her deeds.” She says she even believed she might have the zeal and heavenly inspiration to live such a life. I too find myself looking at the lives of saints like Paul and Peter, Clare, and even Mother Teresa and think WOW- to be a Saint means living this radical life of incredible deeds. I think, “I’m sure these Saints had amazing prayer lives and were in very close communication with God all the time but look at what they DID!” I want to live an epic life like that, to do incredible things for God. I think if I want to be a saint, I better start a religious order, open at least one orphanage, and maybe become the pope.
The second reaction usually follows the first. My amazement is replaced by fear and false humility. *Side-note: humility is great, false humility is a lie. Thomas Merton is one of my favorite spiritual writers, and he describes false humility as that which convinces us that we cannot become what we were created to be, cannot do what we were created to do.* I tell myself, if this is what it takes to be a saint, I’m pretty sure it’s already too late for me. Some of my previously listed requirements for saintly deeds are just impossible. I know I can’t be the pope, and that’s not humility, it’s just a fact. And then comes that false humility. A bird would be silly to say, “I cannot fly” (unless it was a penguin of course) and a fish would be silly to say “I cannot swim.” In the same way, it is just silly for any of us to say “we cannot be saints.”
The truth is, we are created for sainthood, but we often have the wrong idea of what that means. Sainthood does not mean we live a life of heroic deeds, but that we live a life of heroic virtues. If you were a part of Life Teen summer camps in 2009, I bet you remember that we spoke of the heroic virtues that the Church teaches us we must live out to become saints. These virtues are prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance. Prudence helps us make good, holy decisions by telling us what to avoid and what to desire, while justice helps to give others all they are due as children of God. Fortitude urges us on to keep working towards holiness even in difficult circumstances, and temperance teaches us moderation when our passions may say otherwise.
The lives of the saints are meant to be an inspiration and not intimidation. Today, let’s choose to be inspired by the lives of the saints- not for their deeds, but for their desire for holiness.