BY Father Mateo Crawley-Boevey, SS.CC.
“For this is the will of God, your sanctification.”
(1 Thes. iv, 3.)
“Come, follow Me.”
(Matt. xix. 21.)
THOUGH these words are addressed to all Christians, they seem to refer most specially to you and to all those who by vocation are called to be the friends and apostles of the King of Love.
And whither leads this way?
Here below to the goal pointed out to you which is sanctity and then to your supreme and final goal which is eternal life, that is to say, the consummation of all sanctity.
This sanctity is God Himself, because He alone is life and the beginning of life; I am “the beginning Who also speak unto you !” (John viii, 25.) Whence it follows that sanctity is our true life as well as our moral beauty and the sole secret of happiness and peace for us.
How often in our desire for happiness and all that is beautiful we deceive ourselves through misconceptions and only meet with deceitful charms.
Christ in His vivid radiance is the sole Beauty which gives tranquility and happiness to the heart. For this reason the Saints were the greatest and only philosophers, because they knew how to drink their fill from that Fountain of peace and life which was, is, and ever will be Jesus, His Love, His Heart.
What Is Sanctity?
“What would you like to be? An Angel? An Aloysius Gonzaga?” I asked a child who, after his First Communion, was wont to spend whole hours in an ecstasy of happiness before the Blessed Sacrament. Without a moment’s hesitation and with a heavenly expression on his face, he replied, pointing to the Tabernacle: “To be changed into Jesus!” Such is also the simplest and most exact definition of sanctity — to be changed into Jesus.
Sanctity is Jesus assimilated, ever growing and developing in us, supplanting our poor fallen nature and giving us His own. It is Jesus as principle of our thoughts, soul of our will, foundation of our joys and source of our strength; it is, in short, the practical realization of that “Mihi vivere Christus” — “to me to live is Christ.” (Phil. i. 21.) In proportion as we disappear He fills our whole being. This transformation is begun in a mystery of intense faith and it is consummated in a mystery of burning charity.
Speaking in a figurative sense we might say that sanctity is the ray of light which returns to the Sun, the atom of dust which regains its center, the life which finds at last and for ever the inexhaustible fountain of immortal Life which is God and only God. Or, if you prefer, sanctity is Jesus Christ giving our earthly life an eternal duration, and we living here below on that one immutable reality which is Christ, with His Heart for our school, our refuge, and our habitation.
Is Sanctity Possible?
Entirely possible for the simple reason that we are called and invited to it by an All-Wise God. Therefore we can attain it. He gives the first impulse. He makes the first step easy and also the second. Remember, sanctity does not principally consist in laying hold of God up in the heights of Heaven, but in letting ourselves be seized by Him when He swoops down like an eagle hungry for its prey. He invites and welcomes, He offers graces, light and strength, He draws and guides, He gives Himself; our part is to love Him and to give ourselves with docility, trust and generosity.
Take the case of a soul in a state of great wretchedness, full of defects — such were assuredly very many of the Saints — but this soul lets herself be loved and taken by Jesus without feeling alarmed; in spite of the resistance of nature she submits to divine inspirations. Thus, notwithstanding a thousand difficulties, the Creator and the creature have worked a miracle of grace, and even before death that soul has risen to the heights of sanctity. Love, then, with a divine passion, with a blind and boundless trust and you will be saints.
So I Can Be a Saint?
Evidently, why doubt it? Moreover it is a duty for you who read this and on whom abundant graces have been bestowed. A duty is not impossible. Think how much Jesus has loved you and do not be ungrateful. Do not imagine that under pretext of humility you can refuse to acknowledge so many favors and through unpardonable cowardice release yourself from the obligation of being a saint. Do not say that you want to be an apostle only and not a saint; an apostle who does not rise above mediocrity, good because not bad, and nothing more! Such souls are not worthy to be admitted amongst those who fight for God’s glory.
And here I wish to lay stress on an idea which is as fundamental as it is simple, one on which I have much insisted when preaching to apostles, in order to give them great courage in the work of their sanctification.
It is incredible how wide-spread, even among Christians, is the opinion that saints are more or less beings cast into a special mold, and, like another John the Baptist, they neither eat, drink nor sleep; in other words they enjoy a glorified body and are confirmed in grace.
This very mistaken conception has already disheartened numberless souls and continues to discourage many who are keenly conscious both of their own fallen state and of the call to sanctity.
Let us see what happened, for example, in the case of the Little Flower. In spite of her canonization there are still fervent souls, even nuns and priests who say: “But this Carmelite was just like others, what did she do beyond the ordinary?”
Do you catch the wrong, discordant note? “What extraordinary things did she do — she was just like others,” consequently “she can hardly be the saint they say she is.” Such people, though pretending to have a great love for the Blessed Virgin, have never meditated on the sanctity of that Queen, in whom all appears normal and ordinary whereas all is sublime and divine. According to their criterion, sanctity consists in ecstasies, apparitions, the power of restoring the dead to life, the gift of prophecy, therefore those who live hidden lives like Mary and Joseph in Nazareth are not and cannot be saints.
Be very sure the saints had to struggle as we have and still more against interior darkness. Remember the tremendous and long temptation Little Teresa had against the Faith until her last agony. “I do not see,” she said, “but I believe as I never did, that is enough for me!” Such darkness begets a marvelous celestial light.
The saints had to struggle as much as and more than we have against injustice and, what is a greater danger, against the seduction of creatures, this living barrier or, if you prefer, this abyss of enthralling beauty which draws us to its brink and causes a fatal giddiness. But, constantly faithful to divine grace, they could say with St. Paul: “I can do all things in Him Who strengtheneth me.” (Phil. iv, 13.) They conquered through love.
The saints had to struggle as much as and more than we have against their own indolence and that natural instinct, which, like the force of gravitation, always tends to draw us towards the earth. How many times did they not feel the fatigue of battle, the tediousness of virtue, the weariness of climbing the slope above them, while, down below, they could hear the caressing, lulling sounds of singing and merry-making. Many a time they had need of all their courage and had to close their eyes and ears in order to persevere on their upward path. Nature can never get used to living a dying life, but grace supported by generosity is all powerful.
The saints had to fight as much as and more than we against that discouragement which comes from within and without, against their own weakness, which cries out: “Enough! Why so many efforts!” At times, they slipped and fell; there were moments when they doubted of their duty to become saints and when victory seemed impossible to them. But, soon, recovering and increasing their energy by penance and generosity, they rallied their frail natures with love and died on the summit hymning the victory of Jesus.
To Will is to Be Able
This axiom is always true in the supernatural order, given the fidelity of God and the Mercy of His Heart. If I truly wish to be a saint, I can be one, I can even be a great one.
Only The Saints Are Happy
We do not say this to the world, for the world is not capable of understanding this truth. Remember that Jesus did not pray for the world, (John xvii, 9.) for it is willfully blind. But we do say it for the group of fervent souls who often consider virtue and especially sanctity as a burden of crushing glory, as the bloody glory of martyrdom, and do not give a thought to the heavenly peace and happiness, which our Lord grants, here below, to His heroic servants. This is why I assert that only the saints are truly happy. Union with God, the casting off of everything which interiorly or exteriorly is a cause of moral conflict, the Cross itself sweetened and changed into a heavenly gift and gain, in short the living on that truth which is Christ crucified, and that love which is Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, all this can but produce a delightful tranquility of spirit, and a contentment of heart which the world can never know. And if the earth is a place of exile, a real Calvary for the saints — and perhaps more so for them than for others — it happens to them as to Our Lord in the Garden: Jesus sweated blood in His Agony, but His soul was transported by the delights of the vision of His Father. The saints are happiest on Calvary.
Divine love has the virtue of transforming what is bitter into sweetness. “I have come to the point,” said the Little Flower, “of not being able to suffer, for I have converted suffering into unspeakable joy. My great sorrows bring me great delight, and my little crosses lesser delight.” Far from being nonsense, this divine folly is wisdom, the sublime folly of the Crucified and His friends. Mary, the Queen of Martyrs and the most sorrowful of creatures, was surely the happiest in her mortal life. And after her, millions of saints have gloried in the Cross, taken their delight in it, and hymned it in ecstasies of happiness; thus did Francis of Assisi, Mary Magdalen de Pazzi and John of the Cross. (But in this divine Heart everything, even the bitterest suffering, is changed into love. – Letters of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, to Sister Jeanne- Madeline Joly, at Dijon, April 10, 1690.) All bore in their souls the stigmata of a spiritual martyrdom, all could truthfully say with St. Paul: “I overflow with joy.” (2 Cor. vii, 4.)
The saint, still less than simple Christian, does not suffer alone, for he has a Cyrenean at his side who helps him to carry his crosses and to reach Calvary. This Cyrenean is his intimate Friend, Jesus Himself. And as the saint lovingly drinks of the chalice of the Crucified King, so, too, the Lord in His turn rewards the friend of His Heart with consolations and increased fortitude. Jesus is the soul of the saint’s endurance; he suffers and Christ supports him.
You will agree with me, dear apostles, that it is a far better thing to take the chalice from His hands and to drink of it leaning on His Heart, than to laugh and sing in the desert places of the world where He is not.
Sanctity an Actual and Permanent Reality
We rub shoulders with saints without knowing it.
Many imagine that the saints are only to be found in the glory of the past but never met with in modern times. This false and pessimistic argument does nothing to encourage the reproduction of that race of giants, which is supposed to have become extinct as a result of progress and our present mode of life. But the Church has been gifted with a perpetual fecundity and just as there have always been saints, so there always will be until the consummation of the world. They may vary and do vary in style, form and modality in accordance with divine ordinance, but sanctity remains an actual and permanent reality. Thus, it is very possible that at the present day we may not find a saint like St. Vincent Ferrer, but it would not be surprising to come across one of the school of Nazareth without suspecting it, for such a one neither blows his own trumpet, nor raises the dead to life, but lives, like St. Joseph, in the silence and obscurity of his cottage.
Pius X pointing to the portrait of Little Teresa exclaimed one day: “She is the greatest saint of modern times.” But a few years ago who ever knew of the existence of the Little Flower? Hundreds of contemporaries of the little saint are alive, those who have seen her and conversed with her, those who could appreciate certain of her qualities and even testify to certain defects. How many of them imagined that they would see her raised to the altars and that her virtue and her miracles, till then ignored, would shake the entire world and make of her “a miniature of grace,” as Pius XI said? And this story is one of yesterday. Her four sisters are still alive, as are other relations and friends; it was but yesterday that she traveled our road, her footsteps are still fresh, and she is already canonized. So, too, on that same road of obscurity and simplicity, we have saints today, both in monasteries and in the world. As soon as death has broken the vessel of clay, the light and flame which they bore within them is manifested.
There is certainly much that is evil today, but there is also much that is good, and with daily or frequent Communion, with the spread of the devotion to the Heart of Jesus — I mean the health-giving doctrine of love — there are hidden gems of sanctity which tomorrow perhaps will blaze forth in the eyes of the whole world.
To illustrate this, let me tell you the story of a young girl who displayed heroic virtue. She was of high social standing, extremely well educated, of striking appearance, lively and most intelligent. Her father, a very worldly man, doted on her, indulged her every whim and, proud of his little queen, loved to show her off as his jewel. There was no play, no party, or ball that he did not attend with her. She was only sixteen years old, but she bore within her a longing for God and for heaven; she was fond of prayer and a true contemplative, without, however, having a religious vocation.
You can imagine how much she suffered from being shown off in worldly gatherings. She begged and entreated her father to excuse her from leading a life that was anguish to her. But he always refused; he had to go, he said, and he would not go without her, and she, out of respect and submissiveness, had to resign herself to the torture.
So there she was, constantly arrayed in all her finery, but no one suspected that she wore a hair shirt beneath her fine and costly dresses and that her soul was as white as snow and her heart on fire for Jesus.
What is most remarkable is that after she had spent the time from ten o’clock till one in the morning in a box at the opera, at a social gathering or ball, she came away from them wholly absorbed in God. And, moreover, if any one had asked her, she could not have told what play she had attended, or who had asked her to dance, for, by a miracle of grace and in reward for the heroic fidelity of her heart, though her body was where her father obliged it to be, her soul had passed those long hours in an ecstasy of love. When, in the early morning, she reached her house, she would spend an hour on her knees in adoration and reparation, and at seven o’clock she was at the altar rails, so rapt in God that they had to rouse her when it was time to return home again.
“I feel,” she told me, ”as if a very sweet drowsiness seizes me and entirely overcomes me as soon as I set foot in the theater or in the ballroom and I am unaware of anything that is going on. It is as if I were there alone. I wake up completely as soon as I get back home, and therefore I am often much puzzled when people, talking about some party or opera at which I have been present, ask me what I thought of it. If it were not for the program or my father I should not know where I had been nor what had happened.”
This is what the love of Jesus is always capable of working among rich and poor, in the cloister and in the world, when He has once taken possession of a heart. Today, more than ever, heroic souls may frequently be met with. The Heart of Jesus is everywhere producing an outburst of sanctity which has perhaps never been so rich and varied, but in the style of Nazareth. The interior is splendid and worthy of the King of Love, but the outside is humble and simple, like Joseph’s workshop.
God is wonderful in His saints. (Ps. lxvii, 36.) He is forever adorning the firmament of His Church with these divine jewels, and, if you are tempted to give up the struggle for sanctity because of your unworthiness, your past or present sins, call to mind these words of His: “I make My masterpieces out of the refuse of the earth.”
Apostles of the Sacred Heart, rejoice: If you are or have been the refuse of the earth, you have all the more right to be a masterpiece of His Love!
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