Can I really be a saint?

| Father Michael Schmitz | February 7, 2019 | 0 Comments

Q. When I read about people who became saints in the past, it gets me a bit worried. They all seemed to have led very “extreme” lives. I don’t think that I could do that. Can I still be a saint?

A. You are asking one of the most important questions in the world: “Can I be a saint?” This question reveals that you have both awareness and desire: You are aware that there is nothing greater that a human person can become, and you actually want it.

There are three different uses for the term “saint.” The most broad is the biblical term: anyone who has been baptized is among the “holy ones.” The second most general use is “anyone who is in heaven.” The third and most specific use of the term refers to those who have gone through the canonization process and are officially recognized by the Church as “Saint So-and-So.”

If you are baptized, you are already numbered among those who are called the “holy ones.” The goal of being officially declared “Saint You” by the Church would be pretty cool but is more or less out of your control. Therefore, the kind of saint you are called to become is the middle one: the one who is simply in heaven with God and the rest of the communion.

So, you are aware and have the desire. What a gift. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.”

But obviously, awareness and desire are not the only ingredients necessary to be a saint. We require an abundance of God’s help. This is called “grace,” and we can do nothing without it.

But beyond that, when it comes to our part, is being a saint nearly impossible in this day and age?

Let’s make something very clear before taking any next steps. A person never becomes a saint because they fasted a lot, or because they prayed a lot, or because they helped a lot of people in some dramatic fashion. Every single saint did pray and fast and serve, but this isn’t why they are saints. Saints are people so conformed to the image of Jesus that they do the Father’s will. “Doing the Father’s will is the food that sustains me,” said Jesus.

I wouldn’t say that it is any more difficult to become a saint in our time than in any other time. But there are certain obstacles we currently face that may not have been present to our ancestors who have run the race before us.

First, our culture has become preoccupied with instant gratification. Our attention spans are limited, and our ability to wait patiently has shrunk. Further, constant distraction has inculcated a tendency toward remaining on the surface of things and becoming unable to truly dive deeply into meaningful ideas, relationships and prayer. The modern saint will have to contend with these obstacles.

Sanctification (or becoming more and more like Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit) is a process. There are no shortcuts, and there are no quick fixes. It will be a process of choosing the Father’s will over and over. The person who desires to be a saint will enter into this process with the hope and joy of knowing that God will do a great work in him or her, even if it is the work of a lifetime.

The second obstacle I can see is our attraction to keeping our options open. I have a friend who diagnosed our culture as having “optionitis.” We have an aversion to commitment. We don’t like to be tied down.

But Christian faith is far more than simply believing in a set of doctrines; it is fully “belonging” to God and submitting one’s intellect and will to Christ and his Church. This constant act of self-surrender requires a willingness to be “all in.”

The third challenge the modern saint will face is a lack of courage. We can be tempted to imagine that being a saint is nothing more than someone who is “just really, really nice.”

But Jesus taught that heaven is taken by force, and that the violent bear it away. Not physical force, but certainly physical, moral and spiritual courage. There is no saint who ever lived who did not have the virtue of courage in abundance. We could even describe it as a “warrior spirit.”

You are called to be a saint. You have been redeemed so that you may become one: to enter into the process of sanctification, to give yourself fully to the Lord, and to embrace a fighting spirit of courage. With God’s grace, this is something eminently possible. As one contemporary writer has put it, “There is only one real reason why you are not already a saint: you do not yet want to be one.”

Father Schmitz is director of youth and young adult ministry for the Diocese of Duluth and chaplain of the Newman Center at the University of Minnesota Duluth. Reach him at fathermikeschmitz@gmail.com.

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Category: Ask Father Mike