The concept of the perfect, faultless saint is unrealistic. We have only to look at the gospels to see how imperfect the Apostles and first Christians were. There was a point in their lives when they changed. We call that point the time of their “conversion,” their encounter with the Sanctifying Spirit. For the Apostles it was Pentecost, for Paul it was a blinding light on the road to Damascus, for Cornelius it was the mere presence of Peter.
However, most of the saints did not have dramatic experiences. As we have seen in the life of Matt Talbot, it was pain, disappointment, and a feeling of emptiness that pushed him into the arms of God. No matter what happened, the saints determined at some point to follow Jesus. A vacuum deep in their souls began to be filled, for they found the pearl of great price. They all changed their lives, some their state in life, but they did not get rid of their weaknesses. They fought harder, conquered more often and grew, like Jesus, “in grace and wisdom before God and men” (Luke 2:52).
In the Acts we see Peter’s vacillating spirit making him and everyone else miserable as he took so much time deciding the fate of the Gentiles. Paul’s temper flared quickly as he argued his point before the gathering of Apostles. John, called by Jesus a son of thunder, had little patience with those who would not follow Jesus.
In the lives of all the saints we find the following similarities:
- love for God and neighbor,
- determination to imitate Jesus,
- an immediate rising after a fall,
- a complete breakaway from grievous sin,
- growth in virtue and prayer,
- and the accomplishment of God’s Will.
These factors are available to every human being; they do not exclude imperfections and faults. We must make a distinction between faults and sins. A saintly person keeps the Commandments; however, he may possess various human qualities, dispositions that make the imitation of Jesus a sanctifying process. These weaknesses make him choose constantly between himself and God. It is in this emptying of oneself and the “putting on of Jesus” that he becomes holy.
Holiness is a “growth experience” and growth consists in advancing in knowledge, love, self-control and all those other imitable virtues of Jesus. We must not lose sight of holiness as we grow, for holiness only means that Jesus is more to us than anyone or anything else in the world. But this desire to belong entirely to God does not exclude being loving to our neighbor, compassionate, caring, patient and kind. Our desire to belong to God enhances all these virtues in our souls, increases our love for our neighbor and makes us more unselfish.
A housewife becomes holy by being a loving wife and mother, filled with compassion for her family because she is filled with the compassionate Jesus.
A husband and father becomes holy by being a good provider, hardworking, honest and understanding because his model is the provident Jesus.
Both husband and wife become holy together as their love for Jesus grows. Love makes them see themselves and change those frailties that are not like their Model. In doing this, life together is less complicated and more loving and understanding. They are bound together by love and prayer, mutual striving and forgiving.
Children become holy by being obedient, thoughtful, joyful and loving. These qualities are maintained by grace and prayer.
Being faithful to the duties of one’s state in life and faithful to the grace of the moment are not as easy as they appear. Our temperament, weaknesses, society, work and even the weather clamor for our attention. Living a spiritual life in an unspiritual world and maintaining the principles of Jesus over the principles of this world is hard, but within reach of all. The paradox is that if we choose evil over good it is hell all the way to hell and that is harder.
Christianity is a way of life, a way of thought, a way of action that is contrary to the way of the world. This makes the Christian stand alone and it is this aloneness that discourages him from striving for holiness. However, it is this same aloneness that makes him stand out in a crowd. He becomes a beacon for those who do not enjoy the darkness, a light that enlightens the minds of all around him, a fire that warms cold hearts.
He struggles as all men struggle; he works, eats, sleeps, cries and laughs, but the spirit in which he accomplishes ordinary human needs and demands makes him holy. He does not always make the right decisions but he learns from his mistakes. He does not correspond to every grace, but he accepts his failures with humility and tries harder to be like the Master. He does not condone sin, and though he is ever aware of his own sinner condition, he loves his neighbor enough to correct him with gentleness when his soul is in danger.
He is free to have or have not, for his real treasure is Jesus and the invisible realities. He can possess with detachment or be dispossessed without bitterness.
He knows his Father well enough to entrust his past to His mercy. The Spirit is a friend who guides his steps and straightens the crooked paths ahead. His time and talents are spent in the imitation of Jesus in the ever present now.
The saint is the person who loves Jesus on a personal level; loves Him enough to want to be like Him in everyday life; loves Him enough to take on some of His loveable characteristics. Like Jesus, he lovingly accomplishes the Father’s Will, knowing that all things are turned to good because he is loved personally by such a great God.
Let us not be confused by the talents and missions of other Saints. Let us be the kind of saints we were created to be. There are no little or great saints — only men and women who struggled and prayed to be like Jesus — doing the Father’s Will from moment to moment wherever they are and whatever they are doing.
Saints are ordinary people with the compassion of the Father in their souls, the humility of Jesus in their minds and the love of the Spirit in their hearts. When these beautiful qualities grow day by day in everyday situations, holiness is born.
The Father gave His Son so we would become His children and heirs of His Kingdom. Jesus was born, lived and died and rose to show us the way to the Father. The Spirit gave us His gifts so we would be clothed with the jewels of virtue, the gold of love, the emeralds of hope and the brilliant diamonds of faith.
Let us not be content with the scotch tape and the aluminum foil of this world.
Be Holy — wherever you are!
Editor’s note: This article is from a chapter in Mother Angelica’s Guide to Practical Holiness, which is available from Sophia Institute Press.