September 30, 2018
Saint Thomas Aquinas had a sister. One day, she wrote to the famous theologian brother and asked him ‘How can one become a saint?’ His answer: Desire it. That sound so-o-o-o easy. But the difficulty of it lies in the choice of the word desire. We have many desires; some laudable, some, not so much. Adding saintliness to the list hardly seems a prescription for greatness. But Thomas’ answer means desire this: period. And that makes all the difference.
If saintliness is just one more desire amongst a host of others, it will have to wait its turn; and when that turn comes, it will have to fight to keep our attention and focus. But if we have to clear away all other desires and desire this alone, then the hard work of saintliness is suddenly seen for what it is … purity of heart, poverty of spirit, hunger and thirst for holiness … the stuff of the Beatitudes.
It has been my experience that the real hard bit of Christianity comes when we have to choose between something we want and something that we think God wants – and we never thought of wanting! It can seem almost impossible to imagine that God could want chastity, sobriety, patience, forgiveness, fidelity, when it is so much easier to have items x or y or z that are so readily to hand. And even if we choose what God wants, we do so grudgingly, resentfully, stingily; but it is never desired.
How do I begin to want to be a saint?
The classical answer is that I begin by coming to know Jesus; particular, by knowing about his passion. This starting point is suggested by the fact that, in his passion, Jesus gives up everything that might possibly be considered desirable – food and drink, friends and advocates, comfort and consolation, his Mother and even his very life itself --; and he gives this up for love of me!
Alphonsus Ligouri puts the logic this way
O Jesus, thou goest to die for love of me
Grant that I may die, at least to my self-love,
For love of thee!
There are those who see the Passion as a case of pure victimization; Jesus sees it as doing not my will, but thine. There are those who find such suffering distasteful or frightening; Jesus sees it as the necessary means by which to enter into his glory. There are those who want a different proof of God’s love; but this is how we know that God so loved the world.
Wanting sanctity – and sanctity above all and only – cannot come to pass except as a response to the knowledge that the desired end is worth more than all or any other person
or thing. And God’s love, revealed in the person of Jesus on the cross has no comparable, no competition. To be possessed by such a Lover must be worth all other loves; or nothing at all.
On this topic, check out hymn 143 in the Missalette.
Really and truly and wishfully yours,