By Ben Smith, Director of the Family and Life Office
Young children are often asked: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Most children will generally say something like a fireman, a soldier, a hairdresser or a ballet dancer. Some may mention they want to be a mother or a father or you may even hear that they want to be a priest or a nun. But what would your response be if one of your children or grandchildren said they wanted to be a saint?
All Christians are called to holiness and to be saints. St Therese of Lisieux understood this call with perfect clarity. Her “little way” sought to achieve holiness in the ordinary course of her life, trusting in God’s love and mercy. Historically, this concept has not been well understood by the laity in the Church. However in the document, Lumen Gentium from Vatican II, the Christian’s “universal call to holiness is clearly explained. But for most Catholics, a holy person is someone on a holy card, usually a priest or a nun from a bygone age. So how can holiness be described as universal? How can it be considered as achievable by more than just a few elect with superhero like spiritual powers?
The answer is Baptism. The sacrament of Baptism does more than just remove the stains from our soul with a supernatural NapiSan. Through baptism, every Christian becomes a “new creation.” We are reborn and regenerated through grace (Christifideles Laici, 11). Baptism brings us back into relationship with God the Father, as His adopted sons and daughters and into fellowship with Christ as our brother (CL 12). This spiritual adoption enables us to participate in the life of the Trinity. Through baptism we are also anointed by the Holy Spirit who transforms us into spiritual temples (CL 13).
The sacraments, especially baptism, change us in ways that are not linear and iterative but exponential and disruptive. Why then don’t we feel these effects more regularly? How come being a saint is so hard despite the fruits of baptism and the other sacraments? The answer to these questions stem from an unholy trinity of temptations that confuse us in our daily life: the World, the Flesh and the Devil. These three sources of temptations correlate to Jesus’ temptation in the desert.
In terms of the World, Jesus was tempted by the Devil to jump off the temple and be saved by His angels before He hit the ground. This temptation represents the human tendency for self-assertion rather than self-surrender to God the Father.
The Flesh is another source of temptation. Jesus was tempted by the Devil to make bread out of stones to satisfy his hunger. While there is nothing wrong with eating, our human appetites can become addictions of one form or another and this weakness originates from the Fall of Adam and Eve. The Holy Spirit helps transform our hearts so that we are truly free to love God and our neighbour.
The Devil tempted Jesus to worship him in exchange for wealth and fame. We often don’t realise how we can make false gods in our life. Sometimes we can get overly attached to things that we know are not good for us such as sex/pornography, drugs or money. But this can also apply to things that are not bad in themselves like a career, a possession, a certain status or even our child or spouse. Once we give these priority over God, we are on the way to idolatry.
Being a saint and living out our vocation to holiness is a matter of keeping our eyes and hearts focussed on the Holy Trinity not the unholy trinity. But we can’t do this on our own.
Regular attendance at Mass (even during the week) and the sacrament of reconciliation are vital for deepening our relationship with the Holy Trinity. Prayer and cultivating a spirit of silence bring us into intimate contact with God. The reading of Sacred Scripture is critical to enriching our prayer throughout the day. Being part of a faith community in our family, parish or elsewhere is also important as we need the support and encouragement of like-minded companions to share our spiritual journey. It is in community that we become aware of the needs and struggles of other so we can pour out to them the spiritual gifts and mercy we have received from God.
So what do you want to be when you grow up?