The Dawn of Sainthood

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I thought this morning that holiness comes like a sunrise.  The Holy Spirit hovers over the waters, filling the earth with goodness and light.  A sinner becomes a saint as an acorn becomes a tree or a boy becomes a man: slowly.  Despair would have us feel the defeats more acutely than the victories.  Nor do we win the battle overnight.  As the sky is not black one moment and white the next, so sanctification does not come all at once.  Rather, we live in the oranges, purples, greys, and pinks before the full light of day.

Holiness dawns as Christ woos us into His love.  As Anne of Green Gables reflects, “Perhaps, after all, romance did not come into one’s life with pomp and blare, like a gay knight riding down; perhaps it crept to one’s side like an old friend through quiet ways” (Anne of Avonlea).  Holiness resembles romance in this way: one must wait and be willing to say yes.  It trembles, wavers, and quakes until it finds sure footing and takes root.

One tells a love story from the vantage point of its conclusion: the radiance of glory.  The bumps and dips along the way become part of the story, and we can see in retrospect the arch of our growth in holiness.  But resisting temptation and fleeing the devil never seem so glorious at the time.  It feels rather droll to deny oneself.  Who dares to pray for patience?  Gerard Manley Hopkins bemoans this painful virtue: “Patience, hard thing! the hard thing but to pray, / But bid for, patience is! Patience who asks / Wants war, wants wounds; weary his times, his tasks; / To do without, take tosses, and obey.”  If we truly prayed, “deliver us from evil,” we would never sin again.  We only lack desire.  God never causes us to sin but rather gives us strength sufficient to resist temptation.  We want to keep the vestiges of the old man; we nurse our pet sins, give them safe harbor, dress them up, and pamper them as Julia in Brideshead Revisited: “Living in sin, with sin, by sin, for sin, every hour, every day, year in, year out.  Waking up with sin in the morning, seeing the curtains drawn on sin, bathing it, dressing it, clipping diamonds to it, feeding it, showing it round, giving it a good time, putting it to sleep at night with a tablet of Dial if it’s fretful.”  We would rather dwell in darkness than walk out into His marvelous light.  We think we are happier this way because we cannot bear to look into the sun of His holiness.

If God called us into His presence today, we would surely burn up.  He must prepare us to enjoy Him; we have to acquire a taste for heaven.  For this reason holiness dawns gradually, remaking us and giving us the endurance to behold His glory.  An immediate transformation would prove too painful.  Instead, God chips away at our faults to yield the sculpture He envisions.  He prunes us so we may blossom.  Then finally we shall be like Him because we shall behold Him as He is.  Made fully holy, we will possess the ability to look the sun full in the face.

In this journey into the light, we should hold fast Bishop Chaput’s words, “There are no unhappy saints.”[1]  Leon Bloy offers the corollary of this truth, “The only real sadness, the only real failure, the only great tragedy in life, is not to become a saint.”  Indeed, His yoke is easy and His burden is light.  If we truly believed this, we could be happy and holy tomorrow.  He would give us happiness if we would let Him.  He gives us perfect strength to stand to resist temptation.  We know it is through no fault of His that we sin but rather through our free will.  Perfect love casts out fear: fear of self-denial, fear of serving others, fear of decreasing so that Christ may increase.  He wants to give us happiness, if only we would say yes to His will.

[1]  Charles J. Chaput, “Strangers in a Strange Land,” First Things, January 2015, 26

Mary Proffit Kimmel

Mary Proffit Kimmel

Mary Proffit Kimmel teaches literature, Greek, and Latin and attends St. Basil the Great Byzantine Catholic Church.

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