Think about the fact that you have a desire to love God and follow his will. Consider the difficulty of being faithful to him when it is tiring or inconvenient. How could it be that the saints before us were like spiritual and charitable super heroes? Is there a saint medicine we’re missing out on? Maybe their desire for God was stronger than ours. I would like to think that’s true: their desire for God was stronger than yours, than mine. But, how did they “get there?” They weren’t born with this super-virtuous capacity for loving God, were they?
Let’s pretend most of them were not born perfect. I think, rather, that they were not afraid of desiring God and following his will. Consider the life of a particular saint, and then think on his or her fearlessness and courage. That person had a sure confidence in the truth and love of God. Living in that truth, that saint was able to renounce any fear. Why? Because that saint knew, with unfading certainty, that the God in whom they believed is the God of the universe, of heaven and earth, of all creation. They could persevere through anything and still be joyful, real, and hopeful.
This lack of fear comes from a trust and hope in God. Hope in God is the virtue “by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness” (Catechism of the Catholic Church – CCC 1817). It is God who has given us this aspiration and desire. It is he who wants us to be purified, strengthened, and ordered toward the Kingdom of heaven (CCC 1818). Christian hope is like fuel that drives you onward. It comes from within and is one of the most potent things we can “have” in this life. Hope: it’s the food of champions.
You may be thinking to yourself, “well how can I get some of that hope?” Great question! The answer is implied in the second paragraph: be not afraid. If God is God, he loves you. He upholds you. Set your heart right, be steadfast, and place your trust in him. “Well geez, how do I do that?” The process of “getting” or “learning” hope requires a stretch of the heart. IT requires the work of God. Let’s use a couple sources to articulate this.
In the encyclical Spe Salvi, Benedict XVI writes that God has destined us for greatness. In fact, man was created “for God himself; he was created to be filled by God. But [the heart of man] is too small for the greatness to which it is destined. It must be stretched.” He then quotes St. Augustine, “By delaying [his gift], God strengthens our desire; through desire he enlarges our soul and by expanding it he increases its capacity [for receiving him]” (S.S. 33).
The heart of man is too small for the greatness to which it is destined. It must be stretched. You must be stretched. I must be stretched. Stretching an old, stubborn, hard, or fickle heart hurts. Hope is expressed in this kind of stretching, in this kind of prayer. This hope and courage to let God love us is nourished in prayer (CCC 1820). Hope forms us and trains us to receive the love of God in its “pruning” and chastising form. Want to be a saint? Dare to hope.
Sirach 2 throws a different light on the journey of the person who wants to be saintly, who wants to serve the Lord. In this chapter, the father exhorts his son to be steadfast in his commitment to the Lord. Dad tells son that the “furnace” or “crucible” of humiliation is the manner in which “acceptable [or chosen] men” and women are formed. This pressure and heat probably scare those of us who thought we were ready for sainthood. But look: sainthood is not “once save always saved.” Sainthood is a life in Christ. Read that again: a life in Christ. A lifetime of living in Christ is what we call sainthood. The growth and stretch of that person’s heart and soul is what we admire when we call them “Saint [insert name].”
Take courage and respond generously to the invitation to sainthood, to a life in Christ. Hope will help you. It will not only help you “get through” the tough points. It will spur you on and enkindle in you the very life of God, as if his very blood is running your own heart. Jesus himself desires this for us (Luke 12:49). Jesus spent himself and emptied himself, to the point of death. For whose sake? For our sake. Respond to the Lord. Dare to hope for sainthood.
My son, if you come forward to serve the Lord,
prepare yourself for temptation.
Set your heart right and be steadfast,
and do not be hasty in time of calamity.
Cleave to him and do not depart,
that you may be honored at the end of your life.
Accept whatever is brought upon you,
and in changes that humble you be patient.
For gold is tested in the fire,
and acceptable men in the furnace of humiliation.
Trust in him, and he will help you;
make your ways straight, and hope in him.