There's a two-word recipe for holiness, but unfortunately, it's not as easy as it sounds.
“What does it take to be a saint?” The great St. Thomas answered the question with two words:
It sounds so simple. And it is God’s plan for each of us — no matter our station, our politics, our education, no matter our capacity to succeed in this world. We are made, each of us, to be saints.
We only must will it, and that means, willing what He wills.
But the will is a hard thing to bend. Ask any parent who has tried to put a child to bed.
My youngest son spent the last hour illustrating the point.
He’s crafty. He brought a book. Back up the stairs. He brought a drawing. Back up the stairs. He asked for water. Drank it, and back up the stairs. He signed “hug” to me and to his father, putting his arms out wide. Of course we gave in, but then, back up the stairs.
We’d been bribed, guilted and begged.
We had to set our wills (it’s bedtime no matter what) against his will (no matter what, it’s not bedtime).
Obedience did not come easy. It took several more trips up the stairs to make it happen.
And when the struggle finally ended, my husband and I felt … sad.
Sure we’d won the battle, but why did it have to be so hard? Despite being so young, our son knows the routine, and knows the why of the routine.
But he was struggling, in his own way, with the reality of what St. Paul describes in Romans 7:19:
“For I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want.”
His battle was a little thing, and yet not so little, because in not going to bed, he disobeyed his mother and father, rebuffed his siblings who tried to help, and ultimately, hurt his own capacity to get ready for school the next day and face all that the day would hold.
If he could harness this will he uses to refuse directions beneficial to him, I wonder what he could do!
It was as I reflected about this that God tapped my heart.
“Are you that different from your son?”
I needed only to look at my own struggles with self-discipline, with my Lenten observances, to see that I’m also resisting what’s good for me … to see that when it comes to sanctity, I do not “will it,” even when I know holiness is how I’ll find happiness, here on earth … and for all eternity.
I have good and bad days. I suspect God tells me over and over again, through the angels and the saints, through the sacraments and the Mass readings, through conversations with people I encounter and every imaginative way He can think of short of a neon sign, to “will it,” to be obedient.
God must sorrow that I struggle so long to get to “thy will be done,” because I’ve clung so hard to what my will “needs” to take care of first, not trusting Him to know what is best.
I went up the stairs to tuck in my son. He’d finally surrendered to sleep.
As I kissed him goodnight, I realized that in fact, God has been sending a neon sign too: and he’s an 8-year-old boy resisting his bedtime.
Taking away the empty cup and tucking him in with his stuffed dinosaur, I felt gratitude, and a bit of shame, that God is even more patient with me in all my distractions than I am with my son in all of his.
Tomorrow, we’ll begin again, and hopefully, we will both set our wills to be more obedient.