|Wanting to be a saint: the first necessary step in persevering to the end of the way are real and effective desires.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. As a hart longs for flowing streams, so longs my soul for thee, O God … When shall I come and behold the face of God?
We pray thus in the liturgy of the Mass. The deer attempting to slake his thirst with water is the psalmist’s symbolic way of describing the desire for God present in the heart of an upright person: a thirst and vehement desire for God! Such is the aspiration of one who is not content to accept worldly success as the satisfaction for human ambitions. For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?
Jesus’ question forces us to take a radical look at the broad horizon of our life to which only God gives ultimate meaning. My soul thirsts for God! The saints were men and women with a great desire to belong to God completely despite their defects. We could each ask ourselves: have I a true desire to be a saint?
The answer would most assuredly be in the affirmative: yes. But our reply should not be as to a theoretical question, because for some holiness is unattainable, something to do with ascetical theology – but not a real goal for them, a living reality. We want to make it happen with the help of God’s grace .
So longs my soul for thee, O God. We must start by making the desire for holiness flourish in our own soul, telling Our Lord: ‘I want to be a saint'; or at least ‘When I experience my softness and weakness, I want to want to be a saint’. To banish doubt and make holiness more than an empty word let us turn and look at Christ: The Lord Jesus, divine teacher and model of all perfection, preached holiness of life (of which he is author and maker) to each and every one of his disciples without distinction: “You therefore must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5:48).
He has taken the initiative. If He had not, the possibility of being a saint would never have occurred to us. Jesus puts it to us as a command: be perfect! And so it is not surprising that the Church makes sure her children hear the following resounding words: Therefore all the faithful are invited and obliged to holiness and the perfection of their own state of life.
Consider then how vehement our desire for holiness has to be! The first thing that souls must do if they embark on the path of holiness is really to want to be saints whatever may come, whatever may happen to them, however hard they may have to labor, whoever may complain of them, whether they reach their goal or die on the road.
Allow your soul to be consumed by desires – desires for loving, for forgetting yourself, for sanctity, for heaven. Do not stop to wonder whether the time will come for seeing them accomplished. Make them more fervent each day, for the Holy Spirit says that he is pleased with men of desires.
Therefore we should examine our conscience to see if our desires of holiness are sincere and effective, and furthermore, to see if we take them as something obligatory for a faithful Christian – as we have seen the Second Vatican Council state – in response to God’s desires. This examination could reveal the reason for so much weakness and apathy in interior struggle.
Let us develop these desires with the virtue of hope; one can only effectively desire something when there is hope of attaining it. If we consider some aim to be impossible and not for us, we will not really desire it; our theological hope rests on God.
Softness and lukewarmness destroy desires for sanctity: the need for vigilance.
We have to want to be saints, but we must also take into account that unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labour in vain. Humility leads us to count always above all on God’s grace. To this we add our efforts to acquire virtues and practice them continuously and our apostolic zeal, since our concept of personal holiness should not be one which ignores others or which is indifferent to charity: that would be contradictory. Lastly, there is the desire to be with Christ on the Cross, that is, to be mortified, not rejecting sacrifice in small things, and if need be, in big things.
We should be forewarned about approaching God with reservations and without renunciation, trying to make the love of God compatible with what is not pleasing to him. We should be alert in developing our desires of holiness continually through prayer, by asking for the ability to struggle each day, to discover in examination of conscience the places where our love is growing cold. Desire for holiness is real when we fulfill our acts of piety with refinement, not omitting them or delaying them for any reason whatever, refusing to be led by or moods and feelings because the soul truly in love with God never fails through laziness to do all in its power to seek God’s Son, the Beloved. And having done all it could it is still not satisfied as it thinks it has done nothing.
The true virtue of humility enables us to avoid a sense of satisfaction with what we have done, and not to be content with ineffectual desires. It lets us see how we can do more to show the sincerity of our desires with deeds of love, ensuring that our sins, offences and negligences don’t frustrate our expectations. Humility doesn’t clip the wings of our desires, but rather helps us understand the need to have recourse to God to make them come true. With God’s grace we can do all in our power to make virtue grow in our soul, by removing obstacles, fleeing from occasions of sin and bravely resisting temptations.
Counting on time and God’s grace; avoiding discouragement in the struggle to improve
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. Is this thirst compatible with our experience of our defects and even our falls? Yes, because saints are not those who have never sinned, but those who have always gotten up again. Refusal to pursue holiness at seeing ourselves full of defects is a hidden form of pride and obvious cowardice which will end up stifling our desires for God. Feeling easily deflated and lying down under adversity is characteristic of cowardly souls lacking the firm virtue of trusting in God’s promises.
Abandoning God, ceasing to struggle because of our defects when there is opposition is a serious mistake, a very subtle and dangerous temptation which can lead us to that form of pride called pusillanimity, a lack of courage and strength to bear misfortune or undertake large enterprises. Perhaps we need to rid ourselves of false illusions in wanting to be saints in a day: that would be impossible unless God decided to perform a miracle, which he has no reason to do since he gives us all the graces we need – by ordinary means – in a continuous and progressive way. An effective desire for holiness consists in a conscious and determined effort to use the necessary means to attain holiness. If desire is lacking nothing can be done.
Fr. Francis Fernandez (In Conversation with God)
Post script: There is a story of the sister of St. Thomas Aquinas asking him what she should do to become a saint and his response was, “Will it!” Let us desire and will to be holy as Our Lord has asked us to do for Heaven is out goal and the holy enter there.