Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Something Heroic for God

I have written about being brought to the Catholic Church by the Saints, and I was. But I am thinking about the Saints differently today. Previously, I thought of them as inspiring me, as pushing on me from the past. Instead, I wonder if I wasn’t always calling to them from the present. That they finally “responded” to me means that I started to listen.

In fact, it may be more proper to say a third thing. “My life with the saints,” to allude to a book that has been important in my life as a Catholic, has involved a true encounter in the present with holy individuals who are eternally alive—the Community of Saints, it’s called. Maybe it is a form of companionship.

In the post to which I have linked in the first sentence above, I wrote (nearly two years ago) about three Saints who have figured in my spiritual life: Francis of Assisi, Joan of Arc, and Thomas More. Look at the language I used in that post:

“St. Francis was the saint who hit me over the head first . . . ”

“Over the next thirty years, . . . other saints grabbed my attention . . . ”

Thomas More figured in a film [“A Man for All Seasons”] that “had hypnotized me since the mid-1960s.”

In each of those statements, the saint or his story is active and I am the passive recipient of the shock, the influence, the spell. This is a good way of thinking about the saints, I still think. They are active. They live, they move, and have their being among us.

But it leaves me and my contribution—my responsibility even—out of account. What strikes me today is that I would never have been “hit over the head” or “hypnotized” if something in me had not been calling for this, if the impact of a particular saint did not correspond to something innate and preexisting in me, if the saint was not the answer to a question I had been asking.

What is that question? It is a wish for fulfillment, for holiness, completion, redemption. Boldly, I might formulate the question this way: “Show me, God, how I can do something heroic for you.” The question continues: “God, you gave me the gift of life. Show me how I can give you something in return, something equivalent to your gift to me.” God answers: “I give you Francis, Joan, Thomas.” God gives them to me as my companions on a path my heart has already identified.

Believe me, I am no hero. I am unlikely to die the heroic death of a Joan or a Thomas. But my heart wants to be heroic—in the same way a young man or woman called to the religious life is heroic. And God has given us his Saints so that our hearts might not fail.

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