Join our Lenten Campaign 2024.
Well, All Saints Day has come and gone – did it do you any good? My Italian grandfather used to say, “When the Saint’s Day is over, so is the feast.” (Of course, like nearly everything else, it sounded much better in Italian.) In other words, once the day itself has come and gone, the celebration ends too, and we return to business-as-usual. But is that the best we can do? Couldn’t All Saints Day inspire us to become saints ourselves?
Sound ridiculous? Perhaps. “After all,” we tell ourselves, “only saintly people become saints, real – ahem, I mean ordinary people – don’t become saints!” Ok. Let’s stick with that thought for a moment.
On All Saints Day this year, which saint was most on your mind? I recalled Saint Margaret Mary, who received visions leading to the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Her spiritual director was Saint Claude de la Colombiere, a Jesuit. During one of her visions of Jesus, Saint Margaret Mary said that our Lord spoke of Saint Claude, and referred to that good Jesuit as “… my perfect friend.”
Those words made my heart sink. If you are receiving messages from Jesus, and my name comes up, and He refers to me as His “perfect friend,” then I suspect that it is probably not Jesus who is talking to you. I am all too familiar with my sin, my mediocrity and my excuses. I know that as of today, I have not been a perfect friend to Jesus. That’s one problem I have. The bigger problem I have is that I find it nearly impossible to imagine that I could ever be a perfect friend of Jesus; I find it nearly impossible to imagine that I could ever be a saint. And that’s a shame, really, because my vocation is not only to be a Jesuit priest, my vocation is to be a saint – just like yours is.
The danger of All Saints Day is that we might think that spending a day contemplating the saints is like a day visiting the Catholic zoo or circus, where we admire, from a safe distance, rare, exotic or fascinating forms of Catholic life. And then we return to our banal and hopeless ordinariness, of which we are not even ashamed. I say, let’s not do that anymore, because the Christian vocation, yours and mine, is to become saints.
Looking at saints, we err if we say, “That can never be me. I can never be a saint.” No! We must look at the weakness of the saints, and then our own weakness, and then look at the power of God. Then we can marvel and say, “If God can make an evangelist out of a pagan like Augustine, if he can make a hero out of a brawler like Ignatius Loyola, if he can make a ‘steel magnolia’ out of a whiney girl like Therese, then what might God be able to do with the likes of me?” It will be a tragedy if we do not work with God in His plan for us to become saints.
What is a tragedy? It is not simply an avoidable loss. It is not simply a great loss. A tragedy is a loss that cannot be redeemed. French writer Leon Bloy wrote, “’Life holds only one tragedy: not to have been a saint.” Being a saint is what we are made for. What compensation can there be for failing to be truly human? We set our sights too low. If we do not aspire to be saints, then we do not aspire to what God made us for, we only desire to be something else, something far, far less than sanctity and humanity. How tepid and how ungracious we can be! For the love of God we ought to aim higher, and for the love of neighbor, we need to aim higher.
“But Father! We can’t become saints! We’re sinners!”
Yes, let’s take sin seriously. Consider what I call, “The Litany of the Catholic Sinner.”
I have lived as if I had not been created for a noble purpose.
I have lived as if I had not been called by name as a disciple.
I have lived as if I had not been baptized and marked for resurrection.
I have lived as if I had not been consecrated a temple of the Holy Spirit.
I have lived as if I had not been fed from God’s own table.
I have lived as if I had not been set free by God’s own mercy.
I have lived as if I had not been promised to God at His altar.
I have lived as if I had not been set aside for sacred service.
I have lived as if I had not been surrounded by witnesses, both the living and the dead.
I have lived as if I had not been taught God’s own truth.
I have lived as if I had not seen miracles, met saints, and heard God’s own voice.
If any of that litany applies to us, then we must ask ourselves, “Are we not all insane? Are we not all infected with the self-inflicted madness that causes us to rebel over and over again against the only lasting source of truth, goodness, beauty and life?”
How can we have received all that we have received from Christ and yet act as if we have received nothing, by repeating the same sins again and again? As if we had never been taught! As if we had never been given enough and more than enough!
How can we go on living without begging God daily for the grace to radically repent, radically change, casting off for good the filthy rags of our sin?
In light of God’s love, in light of our vicious rejection of that love, the only way to go forward, according to St. Ignatius Loyola, is to ask for the graces of sorrow, shame, and confusion.
We ask for sorrow for our sins so that we can have compassion for the long-suffering God whose heart we break with each sin.
We ask for shame so that we can finally know and feel and taste and smell the malice and the injustice of our sins.
We ask for confusion so that we can experience the disorder that our sin injects into creation. Experiencing confusion at our sin allows us to know in our guts the raging madness at the root of our sin.
Make no mistake: only with those graces of sorrow, shame, and confusion can we stop playing at being sinners; only with those graces can we stop telling ourselves that we are basically good enough for the nice, not-crucified, not-risen Jesus. That’s the first step in responding to the truth that we are loved sinners.
The next step is to allow Christ to share His victory with us. With humility, we must confess our sins, but let us attend above all to Christ. We are loved sinners and we have a Savior.
In my own life, and so often in priestly service, we find sin that leaves scars. But we are not defined by our sins! As Christians, we are defined by our baptism! We have been grafted on to Christ. We have been marked for resurrection and for glory. It is the love of God for us that identifies us, not our sin.
When we are truly repentant, we look at our sin with horror and cry out, “Dear God—never again!” By His Cross and Resurrection, Christ reconciles us to God and neighbor. We are to leave the dead weight of the past where it belongs, in the empty tomb of the Risen Lord. We can prove our gratitude for our redemption by living righteous lives and working towards what God has made us for – to become saints. Start today. It’s not too late.
When I write next, I will address the topic of hope, how hope differs from wishful thinking. Until then, let’s keep each other in prayer.
Father Robert McTeigue, S.J.is a member of the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus. A professor of philosophy and theology, he has long experience in spiritual direction, retreat ministry, and religious formation. He teaches philosophy at Ave Maria University in Ave Maria, FL, and is known for his classes in both Rhetoric and in Medical Ethics.