The saints teach us what the meaning of life really is. By their unique deeds and words, they show forth the love of God in its radiant depth and beauty, pointing us toward not simply the fullness of living in the here and now, but the goal of every human person: eternal life in union with God.
By Deacon Frederick Bartels
1 November 2015
Mother Church places the solemnity of all saints on the liturgical calendar in order to remind the faithful of the important place the saints occupy in their faith-lives as role models of holiness and sanctity. The saints offer us a kind of human window into what a proper and fruitful relationship with God is, and the way in which God transforms, recreates and perfects the life of the human person whose heart is open to his divine grace and love. In learning about and studying the saints, we learn what it really means to live. We learn about sanctity, which is everything.
BECOME A SAINT?
It is necessary at the outset to dispel the notion that sainthood is a nearly impossible mountain to climb, one of such insurmountable height as to allow only a slight few of the superhumanly fittest to set foot upon her cloud-obscured pinnacle. Sainthood is for everyone because God calls everyone to eternal communion with himself through the gift of his only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ (cf. CCC 1). God “desires all men to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4).
Sainthood is salvation. What do I mean by this? It means that there are no non-saints in heaven. Period. It also means that, in offering his gift of salvation, Christ does not simply snap his fingers and whisk people to heaven. Jesus invites us to have faith in him, become his disciples, follow him and live as he lived. He tells his disciples they are “the salt of the earth” (Mt 5:13), and commands his followers to live out the life of unconditional love, saying, “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48). In fact, it is Jesus who not only teaches us to live saintly lives by his deeds and words but gives us a share in his divine life as means to do so. In our living a saintly life, justified by his grace and aided by his Spirit, the gates of heaven are thrown open and we set foot upon the illuminated heights.
Bishop Robert Barron noted in his homily for this solemnity that the Church is in the business of making saints. The whole purpose and movement of the Church is to make saints because her mission is the salvation of humankind; all her members are called not only to step into this holy process and become saints, but to engage it through evangelization and catechesis in order to participate in the saint-making mission of holy mother Church by bringing others to Christ and his Church.
It might surprise you, my friends, to learn that each baptized person, provided he is in a state of grace (not guilty of unrepentant mortal sin), is in fact a saint. By virtue of baptism, the person is incorporated into Christ and his Church, recreated as a child of God by adoption, and given the gift of the Holy Spirit who dwells in the baptized as within a temple (see 1 Cor. 6:19; Col. 2:12; ). St. Peter tells us that baptism saves through the power of the resurrection of Christ (1 Pet. 3:21). Baptism is the doorway to eternal life, the entryway into sainthood, by which we are made sons and daughters of the divine family and swept up into the life of the Holy Trinity.
The Holy Spirit has marked us with the seal of the Lord (“Dominicus character”) for the day of redemption. Baptism indeed is the seal of eternal life. The faithful Christian who has kept the seal until the end, remaining faithful to the demands of his Baptism, will be able to depart this life marked with the sign of faith, with his baptismal faith, in expectation of the blessed vision of God—the consummation of faith—and in the hope of resurrection. (CCC 1274)
God makes it easy to become a saint. Sainthood is for everyone, for every vocation in the Church, and every state of life. God excludes no one from his call to a life of excellence in holiness through faith in his Son and the salvation he offers. But that does not mean the saintly life is one of ease and comfort, lacking challenges and trials and suffering; nor does it mean there is nothing left for us to do but sit back and watch. As the above quote from the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us, we must remain faithful to the end.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE A SAINT?
In simple terms, to become a saint is to be made holy by God. It is to be sanctified, set apart for God, purified by the cleansing and re-creating gift of his Spirit, all made possible by the mystery of the life of Christ. It is to live one’s life in union with the will of God. It is to see clearly the meaning of life and what is really real. The saint knows, in other words, what reality is. The saint knows and understands her purpose and goal. She keeps this goal always before her eyes and forever embedded in her heart, never removing her gaze from the Beloved.
As a young child St. Teresa of Avila, whose teaching on the Catholic spiritual life is unmatched by anyone save St. John of the Cross, frequently walked around with her brother while the two of them repeated these words: “For ever, for ever, for ever shall they see God.”
How often do you think about heavenly things? It is a great pity, my friends, that God has set such a wondrous path of light before us, yet many so often prefer not to look at it too frequently. You should be deeply concerned with the things of heaven rather than the things of earth. As human persons, we possess not only bodies but souls, and these souls of ours will live on forever. In reality, then, we are immortal beings. How sad it is that so few give due consideration to this fact: while they are destined for heaven and an eternal life of happiness, it is by no means certain. If we fail to love God we shall have miserably failed for all of eternity. If you do not become and remain a saint, your life can be properly called a failure.
If you want to live a happy life, not merely for a time but forever, sainthood is a requisite requirement.
THE GOAL OF LIFE
Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope based on him makes himself pure, as he is pure. (1 Jn 3:2-3)
The goal of the human person is to become like God, a divine and sublime promise made possible by the Son of God who became man for our sake:
The Word became flesh to make us partakers of the divine nature: For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God. (CCC 460)
Sainthood is clearly the goal of life. St. Ignatius of Loyola, in his Spiritual Exercises, succinctly articulates the purpose of human life: “Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul.” The objective of life is to attain eternal communion with God and the Beatific Vision. Anything else is loss, not gain.
St. Ignatius then goes on to note the dangers created things pose as potential obstacles to attaining our ultimate and lasting happiness in God, and tells us how we must make proper use of them:
Therefore, we must make ourselves indifferent to all created things, as far as we are allowed free choice . . . . Consequently, as far as we are concerned, we should not prefer health to sickness, riches to poverty, honor to dishonor, a long life to a short life. . . . Our one desire and choice should be what is more conducive to the end for which we are created.
The saint exercises a holy indifference toward created things. While these things are good in and of themselves, he understands that they must be used and enjoyed properly, temperately, and with prudence, always with the love of God and human destiny in mind. The saint chooses to use created things in a way that perfectly corresponds with divine law, natural law, and the real, true and lasting happiness and goodness found in and with God. This, of course, means moral choices are aligned with the commandments of Christ and in union with the will of God. Said another way, the morality a saint lives by is ordered toward the true and authentic good, the life of real happiness and human flourishing. The saint never bases moral decisions on emotion or the dangerous endeavor of pleasure-seeking under the pretense of “goodness.” The saint knows an apparent good is to be avoided and thus gives favor to the authentic and true good.
God calls everyone to holiness, to be holy; it is the saint who answers fully the divine call to love God above all else, to serve him alone, by living a life of purity, infused with the theological gifts of faith, hope, and charity.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Mt 5:8).
LET YOUR HEART NOT BE TROUBLED
The saints show us the meaning of life is to make the right choices, to live life in union with God, to live a life of excellence in holiness. They show us the real goal of life: God.
One of the main difficulties for people is that they envision the saintly life as weird, something so far removed from the norm as to be outlandish. In a manner of speaking, they are correct. Sainthood is totally foreign to the world’s way of thinking. It is viewed as an unusual life, not only because it is the opposite of worldliness, but because so few set out on such a path of light with any measure of serious resolution. However, living as a saint is really living.
Another obstacle is people think the life of a saint is filled with nothing but pain and suffering and lack of satisfaction; the saint must reject everything and live a life of extreme poverty, have few if any friends, abhor all consolation and favor only hardship, and so forth. It is true that the life of a saint is not all roses. There is sacrifice, pain, and suffering. It is not a life for cowards but for the courageous. Yet it is a life filled with an immense and indescribable love which God graciously pours out into the hearts of his beloved children who have placed themselves entirely in his hands and at his service. And that is precisely what people overlook: the unfathomable power of the love of God. Once tasted, it is preferred to anything and everything.
Yes, sainthood involves suffering, as does everyone’s life at some point. The saint knows, however, that his suffering has a purpose and can be redemptive for himself and for others. The saint sees suffering in a way illuminated by the light of God.
When things get difficult, he remembers the words of St. Terese of Lisieux: “Take heart, Jesus hears even the last echo of our pain.”
For the saint, that last echo will one day resound with indescribable beauty, as he gazes for eternity on the face of God. The saint understands wherein real happiness lies. His goal is Christ.
When Christ appeared to St. Thomas Aquinas and asked him what he would like as his reward for writing so well, Thomas replied: “Only you, Lord.”
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Deacon Frederick Bartels is a member of the Catholic clergy who serves the Church in the diocese of Pueblo. He holds an MA in Theology and Educational Ministry and is a Catholic educator, public speaker, and evangelist who strives to infuse culture with the saving principles of the gospel.