Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Sinner's Practical Guide to Sainthood

As a young child I loved to read the lives of the saints and all their heroic adventures and the amazing things they did.  One question always remained in my mind, how does one become a saint?  One thing that I saw consistently through each of these stories was that each person had a deep prayer life and a filial love for God and his Holy Mother.

Another virtue that I saw in each of these gentle souls was a depth of love for their fellow man and a generous nature in which they truly loved each person regardless of status in society, wealth, or cleanliness.  Many of these men and women lived very poor existences and relied upon the generous nature of others for support, food, and clothing.  I also noticed upon further reading that some of these great saints endured great mortifications to their bodies in order to mortify their bodies of it's sinfulness.  A passage stands out in my mind from one of the readings long ago "The soul should never be a slave to the body, instead the body, should be a slave to the soul".  That in it's essence, in order to reach peace with ones spirituality, the body needs to be mortified and not given into over every little whim or desire.

When I was 20, a Priest from Holy Angels Catholic Church in Mt. Airy, NC told a story one day about a young man from the parish who wanted to be a saint.  This young man had read a story about a saint who dug through trash and ate rotten food as a penance and offering towards God to help save souls.  One Sunday morning, this Priest heard some noise out behind his house, it sounded like an animal was going through his trash.  He grabbed a broom and stepped out the backdoor and switched on the light to find this young man on his knees with a small pile of items including rotten apples, tomatoes, and other rotting food that Father had put out for the trash man.  He was bewildered and asked the young man what the devil he was doing, he was surprised with the answer he was given and then invited him into his house where they had a nice chat.  He told the young man that the path to sainthood wasn't paved in rotten food.  What was done in the 14th century and worked for one saint who was called to live that life wasn't exactly what this young man needed to do in order to reach heaven and sainthood.  He explained that we are all called to be saints, however, we become saints by living the lives that God called us to live.  Each of us are different, some are married and through the married life they are given crosses to carry.  Carrying those crosses and living their lives devoted to God and making sacrifices will lead a person seeking saintliness into a holy life.  In all the paths of life that we are called, whether it be the married, consecrated, or single life, we are all called to become saints without having to dig through someone's trash.

Years later, I found myself in the same predicament this young man had entered into, just in a different way.  As my faith began to grow deeper, I began to study the lives of the saints and the different paths of mortification that they did.  After finding several references to hair shirts, coarse clothing, and bindings.. I came across the cilice.  Oh, what a tool this looked like.  It was a sharp chain that a person could put around their arm or leg to inflict pain that you would then offer up and sacrifice for.  I thought that sounded pretty easy to do, if I didn't like it, then I would just take it off and try something different.  I searched for weeks for a cilice and couldn't find anything.  Finally I came across a Christian site in Spain that was offering a cilice for a good sum of money, I forked out the change, I figured it was a good investment towards my sainthood which was practically on order.  A week later, I got my package and eagerly ripped it open to find a beautiful gold colored spiked chain that looked like the spike strips used in high speed police chases.  I sat down in my chair and eagerly wrapped the chain around my upper leg right below the knee cap and then tied the leather strips together.  It was painful, I found myself staring at this thing and just waiting for the super white halo to plop on my head as if this was the last thing needed in order to earn my wings.  A few minutes went by and I decided to stand up and take a walk around with it on.  As I jumped to my feet, a searing realization entered my mind, all the blood that was trapped int he sitting position shot up and as my leg expanded, I came to an even more painful realization that I now had a chain of practical barbwire wrapped around my leg with the pressure growing stronger every second.  I tried to walk, but it was to painful, so I bent down to try and undue it and again came to a shocking discovery that the pressure had caused the metal bond in a fashion that I couldn't get, besides that I noticed a few holes beginning to bleed and that was when I knew I had to get it off!  I ended up half jumping, half dragging my painful leg and body over to the garage and tool box to get the pliers.  It took a few moments to get it off, but it felt like ages had gone by.  The pain was mind numbing.

The lesson I learned as I sat back down in my chair and stared at this simple chain was... that sainthood doesn't happen because of something that we do.  It happens, because of the life that we live and how we live that life in regards to our love and faith in God. I could chop off my toe and say it was for God.  That doesn't make me saint.  However, living my life totally for God and doing his will when it is against my own and doing things because they are the right things to do and not because I think it will get me something.. THAT is in it's most basic form, the Sinners Guide to Sainthood.  The picture at the top of this post is my cilice, I found it this week while going through some old boxes.