May – the month devoted to the Mary!
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ Jesus, We have just entered the month of May – the month dedicated in special way to devotion to the Virgin Mary! Our Blessed Mothers desires with all her Immaculate Heart that we strive to be holy, to be saints! This is something that is attainable for all of us, with the help of God’s grace. However, if we do not chose or desire to be saints, it is not possible. Therefore, it is wise and prudent to decide to grow in one’s desire to be a saint. This week I share with you a meditation on desiring to be a saint. I encourage you to reflect over this message a few times this week: “Desiring Holiness: Wanting to be a saint - the first necessary step in persevering to the end of the way. Real and effective desires. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. As the deer longs for flowing streams, so longs my soul for Thee, O God… When shall I come and behold the Face of God? (Psalm 42) We pray thus in the liturgy of the Holy Mass. The deer attempting to slake his thirst with water is the psalmist’s symbolic way of describing the desire for God present in the heart of an upright person: a thirst and vehement desire for God! Such is the aspiration of one who is not content to accept worldly success as the satisfaction for human ambitions. For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? (Matt. 16:26) Jesus’ question forces us to take a radical look at the broad horizon of our life to which only God gives ultimate meaning. My soul thirsts for God! The saints were men and women with a great desire to belong to God completely, despite their defects. We could each ask ourselves: have I a true desire to be a saint? The answer would most assuredly be in the affirmative: yes. But our reply should not be as to a theoretical question, because for some, (they think) holiness is unattainable, something to do with ascetical theology - but not a real goal for them, a living reality. (J. Escriva, Christ is Passing By, 96) We want to make it happen with the help of God’s grace. So longs my soul for Thee, O God. We must start by making the desire for holiness flourish in our own soul, telling Our Lord: ‘I want to be a saint’; or at least ‘When I experience my softness and weakness, I want to want to be a saint’. To banish doubt and make holiness more than an empty word let us turn and look at Christ: The Lord Jesus, Divine Teacher and Model of all Perfection, preached holiness of life (of which He is Author and Maker) to each and every one of His disciples without distinction: ‘You, therefore, must be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.’ (Matt. 5:48) (Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium, 40)He has taken the initiative. If He had not, the possibility of being a saint would never have occurred to us. Jesus puts it to us as a command: be perfect!, and so it is not surprising that the Church makes sure her children hear the following resounding words: Therefore all the faithful are invited and obliged to holiness and the perfection of their own state of life. (ibid., 42) Consider then how vehement our desire for holiness has to be! In Holy Scripture the prophet Daniel is called vir desideriorum, a man of desires. (Dan. 9:23) Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we all were worthy of such a title! The first thing that souls must do if they embark on the path of holiness is really to want to be saints whatever may come, whatever may happen to them, however hard they may have to labor, whoever may complain of them, whether they reach their goal or die on the road. (St. Teresa, The Way of Perfection, 21, 2) Allow your soul to be consumed by desires – desires for loving, for forgetting yourself, for sanctity, for Heaven. Do not stop to wonder whether the time will come for seeing them accomplished, as some pseudo-adviser might suggest. Make them more fervent each day, for the Holy Spirit says that He is pleased with men of desires. Let your desires be operative, and put them into practice in your daily tasks. (J. Escriva, Furrow, 628) Therefore, we should examine our conscience to see if our desires of holiness are sincere and effective, and furthermore, to see if we take them as something obligatory for a faithful Christian - as we have seen the Second Vatican Council state - in response to God’s desires. This examination could reveal the reason for so much weakness and apathy in interior struggle. You tell me, yes, you want to. Very good: but do you want as a miser longs for gold, as a mother loves her child, as a worldling craves for honors, or as a wretched sensualist seeks his pleasure? No? Then, you don’t want to! (J. Escriva, The Way, 316) Let us develop these desires with the virtue of Hope: one can only effectively desire something when there is hope of attaining it. If we consider some aim to be impossible and not for us, we will not really desire it; our theological Hope rests on God. Softness and lukewarmness destroy desires for sanctity - the need for vigilance. The conversion of Cornelius the Centurion mentioned in the first reading at Holy Mass shows that God is no respecter of persons. St. Peter explains to the others what has happened: the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as on us at the beginning. (Acts 11:15-17) There are no limits or barriers to the power of the Holy Spirit. This is true in our case, just as it was for Cornelius, who was not a Jew by race or nation. On the one hand we have to want to be saints, but we must also take into account that unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. (Ps. 126:1) Humility leads us to count always above all on God’s grace. To this we add our efforts to acquire virtues and practice them continuously, and our apostolic zeal, since our concept of personal holiness should not be one which ignores others or which is indifferent to charity: that would be contradictory. Lastly, there is our desire to be with Christ on the Cross, that is, to be mortified, not rejecting sacrifice in small things and, if need be, in big things. We should be forewarned about approaching God with reservations and without renunciation, trying to make the love of God compatible with what is not pleasing to Him. We should be alert in developing our desires for holiness continually through prayer, by asking God for the ability to struggle each day, to discover in examination of conscience the places where our love is growing cold. Desire for holiness is real when we fulfill our acts of piety with refinement, not omitting them or delaying them for any reason whatever, refusing to be led by our moods and feelings, because the soul truly in love with God never fails through laziness to do all in its power to seek God’s Son, the Beloved. And having done all it could it is still not satisfied as it thinks it has done nothing. (St. John of the Cross, The Spiritual Canticle, 3, 1) The virtue of Humility enables us to avoid a sense of selfsatisfaction with what we have done, and not to be content with ineffectual desires. It lets us see how we can do more to show the sincerity of our desires with deeds of love, ensuring that our sins, offenses and negligences don’t frustrate our expectations. Humility doesn’t clip the wings of our desires, but rather helps us understand the need to have recourse to God to make them come true. With God’s grace we can do all in our power to make virtue grow in our soul, by removing obstacles, fleeing from occasions of sin and bravely resisting temptations. Counting on time and God’s grace - avoiding discouragement in the struggle to improve. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. Is this thirst compatible with our experience of our defects and even our falls? Yes, because saints are not those who have never sinned, but those who have always got up again. Refusal to pursue holiness at seeing ourselves full of defects is a hidden form of pride and obvious cowardice which will end up stifling our desires for God. Feeling easily deflated and lying down under adversity is characteristic of cowardly souls lacking the firm virtue of trusting in God’s promises. (St. Basil, Homily of Joy) Abandoning God, ceasing to struggle because of our defects when there is opposition is a serious mistake, a very subtle and dangerous temptation which can lead us to that form of pride called pusillanimity, lack of courage and strength to bear misfortune or undertake large enterprises. Perhaps we need to rid ourselves of false illusions in wanting to be saints in a day: that would be impossible unless God decided to perform a miracle, which He has no reason to do since He gives us all the graces we need - by ordinary means - in a continuous and progressive way. An effective desire for holiness consists in a conscious and determined effort to use the necessary means to attain holiness. If desire is lacking nothing can be done; one doesn’t even try. Desires alone are not enough. W e must be patient, then, and not try to banish in a day the many habits we have picked up in neglecting our spiritual health. (J. Tissot, The Art of Profiting from our Mistakes) God counts on time and is patient with each one of us. If we get discouraged at the slowness of our spiritual improvement, we should remember how disastrous it is to leave good undone, to hold back in face of difficulties and get discouraged by our defects. God can obviously give us more light to see with a clearer conscience, and to undertake the struggle on new battlefronts with greater optimism, remembering that the saints have always considered themselves great sinners; that is why they tried harder to be united to God through prayer and mortification, relying on the Divine Mercy: let us patiently hope for our improvement, and instead of being anxious about having done little in the past let us diligently try to do more in the future. (ibid.) As the deer longs for flowing streams, so longs my soul for Thee, O God. Let us keep our desire for God alive; let us enkindle the flame of Faith and Hope in the fire of the Love of God, enlivening our virtues and burning away our miseries, and we will assuage our thirst for holiness with the water that springs up to Eternal Life. (cf. John 4:14)” (From: In Conversation with God by Francis Fernandez) Through the intercession of the joyful Heart of Mary, the Mother of God, St. Joseph, St. Michael and St. Paul, may God bless us with the graces we each need to strive to be a saint! In Christ through Mary, Fr. Kasel