Meditations for Layfolks - Sanctity

A saint in the meaning of the Church is not a mere ordinary Christian who at last has managed to enter the gates of Heaven, but is essentially a heroic soul. When the process of canonization is set in motion, the judges are not content with every-day goodness, with piety or charity or a quiet life of peace, such as could be discovered in almost any good Catholic house in all Christendom. They are on the look-out for something a great deal more vigorous than this. They are searching for such a love of God as shall be expressed in energetic and forcible ways, such a love as will do heroic things, raised above normal standards; often a scandal to some, who suppose it to be too tolerant or too intolerant according as their own measures are under- or over-sized. The phrase, indeed, in which this is expressed is "heroic sanctity." A saint, then, in this sense is a hero a man, woman, or child, with a genius for morality. Of course, everyone has in him or her some love of God, some goodness, just as everyone has some power of expressing themselves in language; but as there are people whom we recognize at once as possessed of a special fluency and distinction of style, and whom we, therefore, regard as masters of literature, standing head and shoulders above the crowd, so also there are those whose very goodness has a distinction and a fluency which puts them in a category apart. They are God's heroes, the "arm-fellows of God," the saints. They are possessed of "heroic sanctity"; that is to say, they have expressed their love of God in a heroic degree.

When, then, I say to myself that God sent me here to love Him, that He has called me to Him and that from time to time I do feel that He wishes me to be a great deal closer to Him than I actually am, I am surely criticizing very severely my present way of life. Is there, of a truth, much heroism in my method of carrying out the Gospel? My hours of rising are regulated by my work: are they ever regulated by my piety? Week-day Mass persistently followed may be a difficulty, but it is certainly at least an occasional possibility. How many times do I assist on a week-day at that which I profess by faith is the very sacrifice of Calvary! It would be very hard to go regularly: precisely, it would be heroic; an outward and visible sign of an inward invisible love that passed the love of ordinary souls. Nor is it merely in relation to God's worship that this heroism is to be shown there is the monotonous grind of daily life. My charity, my patience, my tolerance, my truthfulness, my love of justice, are they not rather carelessly interpreted and put into practice? Is there much heroism in the way I manifest them? Perhaps I am very often repeating to myself that it is easy to be heroic; easy to die for one's faith, but hard to live for it; easy to bear in patience the great sorrows of life, but difficult to put up with daily and hourly annoyances. But the heroic is precisely that which is most difficult the word means no more than that. If, consequently, to live for one's faith is harder than to die for it, then of the two to live for one's faith is the more heroic. Perhaps for certain souls to bear quietly the break-up of a friendship (than which it is difficult to imagine any thing more terrible in life) is not so trying as to refrain from impatience when in a moment of hurry a bootlace is broken. This last for them would be the true test of sanctity.

Now have I not to confess that these true tests of holiness would find me, indeed, very far from success? Have I not avoided too often any way that seems to be rather out of the ordinary? I do not mind doing good, whereas it is of far greater importance to be good. For me kindness, generosity even, may be cloaks of malice and excuses for not loving God. It is no use my being kind, nor philanthropic, nor prayerful, unless God's love burns within me. If I have not charity, the rest profits me nothing. Just as it is possible that I may make fasting an excuse for omitting the weightier things of the law; so it may well be that I sweat my employees and build a hospital, am impatient at home and go out to console the sick. I am avoiding the heroic things and not in reality showing holiness. Heroism consists in being heroic, and just as it is easier to do gentlemanly things than to be in one's soul a gentleman, so it is much easier to feed a starving foe, or tend him when wounded, or succour him when drowning, than to forgive, love, and pray for him when he is boastful and full of success. Yet this last is just what a saint and only a saint would do: it is heroism, or the love of God expressed in a heroic degree. I have, then, to realize my dignity as a Christian and see that in my vocation to follow Christ it is just the difficult things that I must try to do, simply because I have first made my soul instinctively apprehend the spirit of Christ.

- text taken from Meditations for Layfolk by Father Bede Jarrett, O.P.