Last week I wrote about the four things our life together has to be about. (You can find the column on our website if you missed it.) For the next several weeks I’m going to be writing in more detail about them, one at a time. The first reason for our existence is this: To help you to become a saint.
Why this? Simply, because it’s what God made us for. No other goal is so deeply matched to our nature. God made us to know, love, and serve Him, and to be happy with Him eternally. Get that right in your life, and a lot of other things will fall into place.
Most of us will never be “capital-S’ saints whose names are celebrated each year in the liturgy on a formal feast day – but that doesn’t matter. If we think about saints only in that way, we may think becoming a saint is impossible. But God doesn’t want us to imitate others – He wants us to love Him and other people as our own best selves, according to the unique way He made us.
But we shouldn’t assume this is easy or automatic. I regularly hear at funerals that the deceased “was a saint” or “is in heaven.” Well, I hope so; but a look around at the lives most people seem to be living makes me wonder if there isn’t a too-easy assumption that becoming a saint is easy and doesn’t require very much hard work. Nor should we assume that we know how to do it instinctively. The church names some people formally as saints to be examples to us, and to show us some of the ways becoming a saint can be done according to one’s circumstances. And those saints show us the can’t-do-without basics of the saint-making process:
- A disciplined life of regular prayer and participation in the sacraments, especially the Mass;
- Service to others after the example of Jesus;
- Hope and courage, especially the willingness to start again after setbacks.
But prior to all these is the decision – that I want to and will work to be so in love with God that I will do what it takes to spend eternity embraced by that Love.
How does the parish help you to become a saint? Of course, it’s the place where we meet Christ in the sacraments; it’s a place where we can learn to pray, learn about the Gospel message, learn of the lives of others on the journey to God. But perhaps most of all, its very existence is a reminder that there’s a goal different from the ones held out by the rest of the culture around us. The goal of human existence, a parish community says, is not to be rich, or to have all the experiences one could fill a life with, or to have pleasure or power or prestige. Life is not given to us for our amusement. Make any of these things the center of your striving, and your life is a tragedy. And, the parish says, there is an alternative: Make the center of your life awareness of God’s love for you, and a proper response to that love. This is what the parish is for. Those buildings on Albin Avenue are a reminder, and an invitation. Until next week, peace,