There’s been a fair amount of discussion lately about what it takes to become a Saint. Oddly divisive discussion, really, because for most of us the “makings” of a Saint are pretty much self-evident: their light shines before all and their fruit grows in abundance.
So with that in mind, I thought it might be good to bypass the areas of controversy and go directly to the source on all this. Christ Himself is our model and He gave us a wonderful teaching on precisely how to become a Saint . . . the Beatitudes. What we recognize in the Beatitudes is that each teaching is a separate building block in the “Interior Castle” that is our soul. And each Beatitude depends on the others . . . the loss of one is to render the entire structure unstable.
So let’s take a look at the Beatitudes and see how they build and support each other . . . showing us the way to become a Saint:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit:” Humility is the foundation of everything . . . without this we build with straw instead of stone.
“Blessed are they who mourn:” Exteriorly we are to become “other” focused rather than “self” focused. The needs of our neighbor take precedence over our own concerns until the very concept of “I” ceases to exist: “He must increase; I must decrease.” Interiorly we accept whatever trials, sufferings and purifications come our way. The cross is His way.
“Blessed are the meek:” Souls striving for sanctity do all within their power to moderate passions at the root . . . the thoughts and feelings that get out of control and lead to sinful actions.
“Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness:” We are to seek God’s will in all times and circumstances.
“Blessed are the merciful:” Love of God and neighbor . . . what else needs to be said?
“Blessed are the pure of heart:” We are to develop a deep interior life of prayer modeled on the Gospel example of the contemplation of the two Mary’s . . . Our Blessed Mother who pondered the word in her heart at all times and Martha’s sister who chose the better part.
“Blessed are the peacemakers:” We are to ever strive to bring peace, harmony and unity to our surroundings. This is His very gift.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted:” For some actual death for His sake; for most the small, daily martyrdom of dying to self and remaining Christ-like in the midst of all the strife and divisions that mark our lives.
So how do the Beatitudes play out in the soul? First we need to recognize that the act of becoming a Saint is a process. When we first choose to walk down this path there will be an uncomfortable tension between the pull of two opposing forces: virtue and vice. As we begin to make progress, we become aware that the pendulum swings ever more in the direction of virtue . . . as habit is formed by walking in His light. While we still might sin, the soul becomes “ever more inclined” to abhor it and avoid it all costs. And for those well along the way, there will likely come a time when mortal sin is well in hand and venial sin comes into the cross hairs. And for some, virtue overcomes even this and imperfections and weaknesses become the object of the attention of God and soul . . . the purpose of the Dark Night.
The bottom-line is pretty simple: virtue and vice are incompatible for those trying to live the Beatitudes. If they weren’t then His coming was in vain. It is inconceivable that a true Saint would be indifferent in these matters and feel it perfectly acceptable to persist in them. Sanctity is about personal transformation . . . the old man (vice) dying and giving way to the new man (virtue).
Second, the last thing I believe a true Saint would say is “I am a Saint.” To do so is to imply one has arrived at the final destination. This as we know is folly: growth in virtue in this life never ceases. In the eyes of a true Saint the finish line is like a moving target . . . always a step or two beyond our current location. It is this kind of attitude of heart that keeps the soul ever moving forward . . . for to remain still and in place is indefensible. So in that vein, the true Saint would be more inclined to say “I hope one day to become a Saint and I’m working toward that goal.”
Third, the true Saint instinctively understands this is a title not given to oneself by oneself . . . it is an honor bestowed by others: either formally by the Church through canonization or informally by the countless individuals throughout time who have uttered “wow, there goes a Saint” when one is recognized in our very midst. And recognize them we do. So in this I’m in complete agreement with those who say there are countless hidden Saints amongst us. This is so much a truism that it should go without saying. In fact, most of us here are probably working very hard precisely to become one of these hidden Saints. I know that’s true . . . because I’ve been fortunate to meet more than a few around here. If this were not possible, then heaven’s going to be a pretty empty place . . . with only enough seats for the canonized to fill a good sized high school football stadium.
So, for what it’s worth, there’s my piece. I really don’t have more to add so I’ll probably not post more. But feel free to add your own comments and reflections if you like.