Friday, November 6, 2015

Saints Are Sinners Too

"Salvation comes from our God." 

This is from the Book of Revelations. It is used on the Feast of All Saints Day to remind us of where salvation truly comes from. It comes from our God. On All Saints Day, we venerate our Saints. We remember our Saints for all the good and amazing things they have done. In every Catholic Church, you see Saints either lifted high on the wall or on a pedestal. Sometimes, I think this gives us a false notion of what saintliness means. 

"Salvation comes from our God." All the Saints really are Saints, not because of their own strengths, their own merits, or because of their own natural abilities. They are Saints because of their weaknesses. They are Saints who really allowed God to transform their weaknesses and use their weakness to make them strong. 

We are blessed to have this wonderful tradition of Sainthood. 

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Over all these years, many of the Saints kept journals, which of course have been left behind. So we can actually read into their thoughts and see their dialogue with God, to better understand them.     

On the outside, sometimes we look at saintly people or Saints, and we think that they have got it all together. We think these are people that are just so perfect and just so good. However, as you read the journals of the Saints, we realize that they were not perfect, and always so good. They were actually sinful like we are. They were people too, and had the same weaknesses as many of us.   Ultimately God transformed them. We are reminded that "Salvation comes from our God." 

I went through a few of the journals of some of my favorite Saints. People who truly became Saints, not because of their strengths, but because of their weaknesses. And I would like to share with you some of my favorite passages about the weaknesses they've experienced. 

The first one that came to mind is Saint Therese of Lisieux. Saint Therese was known as the "Little Flower" because she was such a weak soul. She suffered a lot. She was sick often and never left the convent, and yet she would become the Patron Saint of Missionaries through her weakness. She said in her journal, "How happy I am to realize that I am little and weak. How happy I am to see myself so imperfect." 

Can you imagine this Saint saying that? She is happy to see herself little, weak, and imperfect. Why? 

She says, "I know well that it is not my great desires that please God in my little soul. What He likes to see is the way I love my littleness and my poverty. Blessed are those who are poor in spirit; they will inherit the Kingdom of God." 

Saint Therese goes on to say, "It is my blind hope in His mercy. This is my only treasure. The weaker one is, without desires or virtues, the more ready one is for the operations of this consuming and transforming love. God rejoices more in what He can do in a soul humbly resigned to its poverty than in the creation of millions of suns and the vast stretch of the heavens." 

So what can He can do for a soul that is so weak? He takes more delight in the creation of the entire universe. 

Another saint, Saint Teresa of Avila, who was a doctor of the Church (and one of the few women to have been one), writes, "I write this for the consolation of the weak souls, like myself, that they may never despair of fail to trust in the greatness of God." She is writing all of this for the weak souls like herself, so that they too may realize the power and the greatness of God. 

Pope St. Pius the X said: "My hope is in Christ, who strengthens the weakest by His Divine help. I can do all in Him who strengthens me. His Power is infinite, and if I lean on him, it will be mine." We have one of our great Popes telling us that it is through weakness and through leaning on Christ that we gain power. 

Saint Francis de Sales wrote in The Introduction to the Devout Life, a way for lay people to grow in one's prayer and spiritual life, using a prayer that he himself prayed every single day. He encouraged those that were wanting to enter into the spiritual life to pray this: 

"Lord, I lay before Thee my weak heart, which Thou dost fill with good desires. You know that I am unable to bring the same to good effects, unless you bless and prosper them. Therefore, O Loving Father, I entreat to you to help me by the Merits and Passions of Thy Dear Son, to Whose Honor I would devote this day and my whole life.

Every day Saint Francis de Sales would devote his weak heart to God. He would offer his weak heart. Can't we do that too, just offer our weak heart to God? 

He goes on to say that "All these acts should be made briefly and heartily before you leave your room, if possible, so that all the coming works of the day may be prospered with God's blessing." 

By this he is saying that every day, every morning, before we even leave our bedroom, we offer to God our weak heart and ask Him to use us. 

Saint John of the Cross, also a doctor of the church and mystic, wrote, "Other souls, which are weaker, God Himself accompanies, now appearing to them, now moving farther away, that He may exercise them in His love; for without such turnings away they would not learn and to reach God." He is saying that when souls are weak, God Himself accompanies them, comes to them, and appears to them. 

Have you ever had a time in your life where you are trying to work on a virtue, like patience or gentleness, or whatever? 

Saint Faustina said, "One day I resolve to work on this virtue, and I lapsed into the vice opposed to the virtue ten times more frequently than any other day. In the evening, I was reflecting on why. I asked God, 'Why does this happen? Why did I lapse so extraordinarily?' And I heard the words, 'You are counting too much on yourself and too little on me.' And then I understood the cause of my lapses. When I see a burden that is beyond my strength, I do not consider or analyze or probe it, but I run like a child to the heart of Jesus and say only one word to Him: 'You can do all things.' And then I keep silent because I know Jesus Himself will intervene in the matter. And as for me, instead of tormenting myself, I use that time to love Him." 

She talks about this proud realization that God will do these things, and she has nothing to worry about if she offers herself to Him. 

Saint Faustina goes on to say, "Do whatever you can in the matters of your life." And Jesus says to her, "I will accomplish everything that is lacking in you, but fear nothing, for I am with you. Know that of yourself, you can do nothing." Again, weakness, by herself she can do nothing without God."

Finally, I want to end with Pope John Paul II because he's a Saint that I knew. I actually heard him say this at the 2002 World Youth Day in Toronto as he was speaking to the young. "You are young and the Pope is old, 82 or 83." He could not remember his age. "82 or 83 years of life is not the same as 22 or 23, but the Pope still fully identifies with your hopes and your aspirations. Although I have lived through so much darkness, under harsh totalitarian regimes, I have seen enough evidence to be unshakably convinced that no difficulty, no fear is so great that it can completely suffocate the hope that springs in the eternal and the hearts of the young. You are our hope. The young are our hope. Do not let that hope die. Stake your lives on it. We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures. We are the sum of the Father's love for us and our real capacity to become the image of His Son." 

Two years later, the Holy Father would show us what it means to be weak, as he suffered with Parkinson's disease. He would continue to hold the Wednesday audiences. Sometimes they would bring him up to the window to speak to the crowds. And because he was so weak, because the Parkinson's had taken such a toll on him, he would try to speak, but at times he could not speak. I remember one time, he was so frustrated because he was trying to speak and all he could do was drool. Even though the Holy Father, the Pope, was so weak, he showed us through his weakness how God is glorified. 

We have a tendency to want to put Saints on pedestals and try to become perfect like they were, but the reality is that none of the Saints were perfect. Their greatest perfection was the weakness they overcame. When we are weak, we are made strong. When we offer our weaknesses to God, He can transform them. We are reminded that salvation does not come from ourselves or the good things that we do or the perfection that we try to obtain in this life. Salvation comes from our God.

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