“There’s only one real sadness in life: not to be a saint.” Léon Bloy, French writer, novelist, poet, and essayist (1846- 1917).
How do you celebrate November 1, your special day? All Saints Day is supposed to be for all of us, you know. I mean, you are a saint, right? If not, well … why not? What is keeping you from being a saint?
What in your life is more important than your relationship with God?
You can be a saint. What’s more, you should be a saint. Every person, by the very fact that they were created by God, not only has the capability of becoming a saint but actually is called to be one, made to be one.
Heaven is not an exclusive club only for the truly elite. It isn’t only for those people who live incredibly penitential lives and have at least two earthly miracles worked in their names. Contrary to what many of our Protestant brothers and sisters will misguidedly tell you, canonization doesn’t make someone a saint. It merely affirms that the Church believes the Saint, with a capital “S,” is spending eternity in God’s heavenly presence.
But Heaven isn’t a hall of fame. Heaven isn’t a celestial branch of Cooperstown, the picturesque town in New York where 215 former major league baseball players have been enshrined. About 17,500 have worn a major-league uniform since 1871, so a guy who appears in at least one big-league game has had a 1.2% chance of getting a plaque on the hallowed walls of the Hall.
There probably are several former players who haven’t been elected into the baseball Hall but deserve to be. But it requires unique talent, extraordinary achievement to forever live in the land of the Babe and the Man. It is meant to be exclusive.
It is much easier to gain admittance into heaven. Granted, not easier to receive official canonization from the Pope and gain “Saint” in front of your name, complete with a special feast day and devotions. That’s tough – much tougher than getting your plaque hung on a Cooperstown wall. Some estimates say there are about 10,000 canonized saints in the Catholic Church. I found an educated “guesstimate” that about 61 billion people have lived since the year 1 A.D. Don’t bother with the math. Just know that the odds are much, much less than 1.2% that my great-great-great-great grandchildren will be able to celebrate the Feast of St. Michael of Missouri.
Those long odds don’t excuse me from pursuing sainthood. What is a saint, after all, other than a woman or man who is welcomed into eternal life in the heavenly presence of God? The word “saint” comes from the Greek word hagios, which means “consecrated to God, holy, sacred, pious.” A saint is a man or woman who – though mortal and subject to temptation like every other man or woman – fulfills a divine calling to holiness.
- In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus instructed us to “be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)
- St. Paul addressed a letter “to the church of God that is in Corinth, to you who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be holy, with all those everywhere who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours.” (1 Corinthians 1:2)
- Similarly, Paul addressed another letter “to all the beloved of God in Rome, called to be holy.” (Romans 1:7)
The call to sainthood wasn’t just for the first disciples and early Christians, though. Two years ago, Pope Francis said that sanctity is not an unattainable goal. “All of us, in baptism, receive the inheritance of being able to become saints,” he said. “Saintliness is a vocation for all.”
A year ago, he preached: “We are all called to be saints. (Holiness is not) granted only to those who have the opportunity to break away from the ordinary tasks, to devote themselves to prayer. . . . Indeed, it is by living with love and offering Christian witness in our daily tasks that we are called to become saints. Always and everywhere you can become a saint, that is, by being receptive to the grace that is working in us and leads us to holiness.”
So what keeps you and me from answering the call to sainthood? Some of it, I think, is that word “perfect.” I know I have spent a great deal of my life thinking I should be perfect, and I fail miserably. I feel like that is a failure in God’s eyes as well as mine. Some of it, I think, is that word “holy.” That word tends to conjure images of people with angelic faces, heads bowed in prayer, halos hovering around them. I’ve looked in the mirror: No halo, not literally or figuratively.
The biggest issue, I fear, is that in looking in that mirror, we see with our own eyes alone. We can accept a loving God, a God who bore the weight of our sins and forgave them . . . and continues to forgive them.
But unlike God, we can’t forget. That is the consequence of sin. We can’t forget. When I walk out of the confessional, my soul is as light as a feather. My mind, however, continues to bear the weight. Every sin left an imprint, memories and pictures that won’t go away. I look for the “delete” key; I can’t find it.
We don’t determine sainthood, though. God does.
Great baseball players don’t die anonymously. Great saints do. Every day. In every city and town, hamlet and village, country and culture.
See you in heaven, my fellow saints.