Saturday, November 1, 2014

All Saints Day (Holy Day of Obligation): We Must All Desire to Be Saints

Reposted from last year ... because it still holds true for me.

The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs (about 1423-24), Fra Angelico, via Wikipedia
Therefore, another one of those times that turned out to be historical, as far as my own soul is concerned, was when Lax and I were walking down Sixth Avenue, one night in the spring. The Street was all torn up and trenched and banked high with dirt and marked out. with red lanterns where they were digging the subway, and we picked our way along the fronts of the dark little stores, going downtown to Greenwich Village. I forget what we were arguing about, but in the end Lax suddenly turned around and asked me the question:

“What do you want to be, anyway?”

I could not say, “I want to be Thomas Merton the well-known writer of all those book reviews in the back pages of the Times Book Review,” or “Thomas Merton the assistant instructor of Freshman English at the New Life Social Institute for Progress and Culture,” so I put the thing on the spiritual plane, where I knew it belonged and said:

“I don’t know; I guess what I want is to be a good Catholic.”

“What do you mean, you want to be a good Catholic?”

The explanation I gave was lame enough, and ex pressed my confusion, and betrayed how little I had really thought about it at all.

Lax did not accept it.

“What you should say”– he told me — ”what you should say is that you want to be a saint.”

A saint! The thought struck me as a little weird. I said:

“How do you expect me to become a saint?”

“By wanting to,” said Lax, simply.

“I can’t be a saint,” I said, “I can’t be a saint.” And my mind darkened with a confusion of realities and unrealities: the knowledge of my own sins, and the false humility which makes men say that they cannot do the things that they must do, cannot reach the level that they must reach: the cowardice that says: “I am satisfied to save my soul, to keep out of mortal sin,” but which means, by those words: “I do not want to give up my sins and my attachments.”

Lax said: “All that is necessary to be a saint is to want to be one. Don’t you believe that God will make you what He created you to be, if you will consent to let him do it? All you have to do is desire it.”
Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain
Looking back I see that I have posted the quote about desiring to be a saint every year.

Finally having listened to most of The Seven Storey Mountain, though, I know that the context provided by Merton's confession of inner thoughts is key to the desire.

At least that is the case for me.

I, too, like Merton, use the saints' holiness as an excuse for laxness and lukewarmness.

Once I realized this, I also realized the simplicity and truth of Lax's statement, "All you have to do is desire it."

I have begun focusing on that desire more ever since that self-discovery.

Obviously, I have not become a saint. For one thing, saints usually take very long times to grow and mature. I am no exception.

However, I can say that I recently noticed a big change in that my desire to be a saint has grown by leaps and bounds. It is the center of my prayer. It sometimes bobs to the surface just when I need a hint to put a rein on undesirable behavior.

In turning my desire over to God, He has responded by letting that desire increase.

It is not an obsession but it is always there and often is the center of all my prayer.

I count that as a great grace and today, on All Saints' Day, it helps me look at the great cloud of witnesses and feel closer to them, my brothers and sisters of the Church Triumphant who are cheering all of us on in our race to Heaven.

They, too, had that great desire.

They let that desire and love push them past fear, lukewarmness, laziness, and any other impediments.

They put themselves into God's hands to see what He would make of them.

Their hearts were changed and they, in turn, changed the world around them as they showed God's love for us all.

I pray that He will do the same with me and with you.

All we must do is desire it.

That seems too simple, doesn't it? We have lives to live, families, supper to cook, houses to clean, and so forth and so on. Certainly these are the mental objections I raise sometimes.

The problem is in thinking that the saints waited until their schedules were clear to do great things for God.

OR, in thinking that there are no saints that do regular things.

My grandfather is one of those saints who this feast day is for ... a saint that the Church doesn't know about. He was a businessman, a father, a husband, a grandfather (possibly the best ever), a neighbor, and to the cursory glance he was ordinary.

Everyone who ever knew him though, knew one thing. He was a saint among us.

Just as surely as Mother Teresa. Just as surely as St. Patrick. Just as surely as any saint you want to name.

He did it all within the confines of living his "ordinary" life.

If God put me or you into the midst of an "ordinary" life, then what does He want us to do?

He wants us to transform it into an extraordinary life while cooking, cleaning, going to work, buying groceries, mowing the lawn, and loving all those around us.

So, we can't let ourselves off the hook.

There is no other time.

All we have is now.
Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.
Mother Teresa


  1. Beautiful commentary on becoming a Saint.
    Doing little things with great Love seems easier to accomplish in everyday life.
    Good to read an honest open commentary by one who did not think would or could be a saint and yet her deeds of love, charity, mercy made her a saint.

    Just think of all the saints in our lives that have influenced or graced our life. Thank God for living saints that go unnoticed by their gentle acts of kindness and Christian love.

    Thank you.
    Phil Reyna

  2. It is a beautiful commentary. I strive, but I know I'm limited. But I haven't given up hope. Still I'm reminded of a Flannery O'Connor quote I guess from the thoughts of one of her characters, “She could never be a saint, but she thought she could be a martyr if they killed her quick.” LOL, I love that. It probably applies to me.