A Family of Beggars
Striving to discern or grow in our particular vocation, we can often forget that, at the most fundamental level, there is only one vocation: Holiness. Before we are called to be priests, religious, married people, or single people dedicated to Christ, we are called to be saints.
Last week we met the embodiment of all Christianity: the blind beggar who simply desires to see God. Throughout Christian history, there have been many more blind beggars, and in their persistence and honesty, they have attained the object of fundamental human desire: the beatific vision. Jesus describes these people in the beatitudes
The only difference between us and the saints is that they truly hunger and thirst for righteousness with their whole being. This is not an abstract desire or a faint wish, but a real, visceral hunger for God and the things of God. This hunger is born out of a realization of their poverty, strengthened by mourning for their sins, born out in their meekness and mercy toward others, purified by their cleanness of heart, and fulfilled in their peace with God and others. They are the ones whose deepest longing has been met, so now they have inherited the earth and they see the face of God. With the beatitudes in front of us, and the saints around us, the main question this Sunday is: “Do I truly hunger and thirst for holiness?”
We belong to the communion of saints. Usually our measure of holiness or virtue is based on those around us, our peers. But there is a numberless multitude of saints who are our peers. They have the same weak humanity that we have. They had the same sacraments, the same scriptures, the same graces, the same Catholic Church that we have. They were washed in the same precious blood of Christ that we were at our baptism. Yet, when others around them gossiped about someone, they spoke well of the person. When others around them gave in to their desires and become overly concerned with earthly goods, sexual pleasure, or comfort, these people found their deepest joy by embracing the cross. They kept their garments clean, or at least, after they soiled them, they went back to Christ to have him clean them. They truly hungered and thirsted for holiness with their lives and actions.
The first step in holiness is spiritual poverty – admitting that, without Jesus, I can do nothing. Like Socrates, who was wise because he knew he wasn’t wise, our holiness can only begin when we recognize that we are not holy. We lack humility. We have misused God’s gifts. We have spent far more time on worldly rewards and pleasures than the love of God. We often only repent of our sins when we feel bad about them, and even after receiving forgiveness and grace we fight half-heartedly against the same sins. Even in prayer we often seek spiritual pleasures rather than God’s will, and we allow ourselves to chase after distractions instead of focusing on God or the thoughts that lead us to God. And then, when we realize all of this, instead of turning to Christ with confidence and entrusting ourselves to the precious blood and water that he poured out from his side to sanctify us, we often turn inward on ourselves in false humility and despair. Knowing my own weak nature and continual failings, I can easily think that trying to make a saint out of me is like trying to build a bridge across the Mississippi river with a box of toothpicks.
But there is no excuse for despair. If we acknowledge that, up until now, we have barely begun to pursue sanctity, then we can also acknowledge that Jesus deeply desires our sanctity and gives us all the means to attain it. And then we have taken the first step: spiritual poverty. We have acknowledged that we are nothing without Christ, but in Him all things are possible. In the pursuit of sanctity, we never need to allow our environment to determine our effort, as if we were spiritually ectothermic. Our loving Father sees our tiniest efforts – in fact, he is the one who inspires and enables them – and he sends a flood of grace to assist us when we take the smallest of steps. That grace will not always “feel” like grace, so we need to have our eyes wide open. If we ask for humility, he may give us the opportunity to be humiliated. If we ask for patience, he may give us a person who demands a lot of patience. Likewise with every other virtue. But we can be assured that he doesn’t just give the opportunity, but he also gives the grace. If we hunger and thirst for holiness, we will be satisfied with grace.
As if Our Father wasn’t good enough, he doesn’t just give us personal graces, but he gives us the accompaniment of the saints. They are our friends, our brothers and sisters, our spiritual fathers and mothers. They have undergone the same trials and temptations, many of them have fallen into the same sins and, by God’s mercy, have recovered from then. The saints have no power or desire to judge us. They cheer us on in our spiritual endeavors, pray for us when we fall, and beg the Lord in intercession for us when we ask them for help. Being a Catholic means being called to sanctity, which means getting to know the saints, accepting their help, and trying in our own small ways to imitate them. The saints hunger and thirst for our sanctity, because they love us as Christ loved us.
So if you’re looking for some small steps toward sanctity to take, here are some suggestions based on the saints and the spiritual classics:
- Read about a saint at info. Think of a virtue that they have, and ask them to help you obtain it.
- Watch a movie about a saint (beware, some are a bit cheesy).
- Commit to a time of prayer every day, especially with scripture.
- Examine your conscience each night, noting the virtues that your desire to grow in sanctity. Ask the Lord for those virtues, and the next day, when you wake up, place before your mind the times that you’re most prone to fail in them. Ask for specific help, and be confident that the Lord and his saints will be with you in those moments.
- Give up something that you love, like salt or Facebook. Unite it to Jesus’ sacrifice, and let this help you grow in self-discipline and spiritual poverty.
- Create a “rule of life,” a daily schedule that sketches out when you wake up, pray, work, enjoy leisure, and go to bed. This creates stability and discipline in your life, like a mini-monastery. Ask for the grace to stick to it as best as possible, especially when unexpected changes in schedule or health occur.
- Pick up a good spiritual book and read a bit every day. Check out our List of Suggested Reading at Comeandfollowme.org or Dan Burke’s Life-Changing Summer Reading List (you don’t have to read them in the summer).
- Pray for the dead. This is especially important in the month of November. If your prayers help someone from purgatory to heaven, who do you think they’re going to spend their eternity praying for?
- Commit to praying the Angelus at 6am, noon, and 6pm every day.
- Learn to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, or at least part of it, each day. There are lots of resources:
- Find a Bible verse you like and memorize it. This will distract you from filling your mind with less useful things, and it will pop up in your mind at unexpected and opportune times.
Surround yourself with your holy peers, rely on their intercession, and join them in begging the Lord for sanctity. If you persevere, by the grace of God, you will see his face and you will be satisfied.