Friday 21 September 2012

Becoming Who We Are: Learning from the saints

By Brother Daniel Leckman, S. J.

One of the most wonderful aspects of my journey as a Jesuit has been the deepening of my relationship with the saints. From my days as a Jesuit novice until today, my respect, admiration and desire to learn from the saints has only increased. However, like many things in life, these relationships are complicated, and I’m slowly learning that I’m not the only who thinks so.

Our modern secular world definitely has problems with the saints. It’s so much easier to dismiss these people who heard God speaking to them in particular ways than to actually learn from their life experiences. The rational for this response is often something like: “I can’t hear God speaking to me, so if they did, they must have been crazy people in serious need of medication.” There is nothing new in this perspective. Many people in our modern world find it simpler to mock, ignore or dismiss anyone who lived in previous centuries—or even previous decades—than to accept their wisdom. So, even though I’m kind of saddened by this response, I’ve come to expect that bias against the saints from the my secular friends.

However, the secularists aren’t the only ones who struggle with saints. The holiness of our brothers and sisters of different time periods is sometimes that is foreign even for Catholics today. A few weeks ago we remembered Saint Rose of Lima during the Mass. I was giving a reflection that day, and I took some inspiration from her profound faith expressed in somewhat radical actions. I commented on the fact that some of the things she did may be considered insane by our modern sensitivities, but that we could all learn from the inner freedom she had in her journey towards a more perfect union with God. The very next day, a Catholic friend of mine posted on his Facebook status negative comments on the craziness of this woman—how she was incomprehensible to us today and her “theology of suffering” was probably very misguided—even using rather foul language to describe her. I was a bit taken aback by the visceral reaction he had to her, but then I remembered my own visceral reaction to Saint Lucy back in December of 2011.

There were a lot things going against me that night: I was reading a lot of theology that made me question certain aspects of my faith; I was swamped with work, and consequently, my prayer life had been dry for a while. In short I was struggling. And then St. Lucy came along to add oil to the fire. Something within me reacted very negatively to this woman and her fervour for God. I don’t think I used the word “insane” to describe her actions, but I did feel alienated from the saints that night, and consequently, I also felt a bit distant from God.

As the evening went on, our Lord brought me back into a place of peace, but I don’t think I ever fully made my peace with St. Lucy. That peace would come while dealing with Rose of Lima, and my friend’s reaction to her. In preparing the reflection for the feast of Saint Rose, I realized that although many of her actions seemed foreign to me, I was still drawn to her genuine spirituality, her incredible love for the Lord. The way she expressed that love was radical. We are also called to express our love for God and for others in a radical way.

Should those of us who chose to remain celibate emulate St Lucy or Rose by gouging our eyes out or make ourselves ugly because someone commented on how beautiful we are? Absolutely not! Should we dismiss these saints because of these actions? Well, what I told my friend in the end, is that although their actions may not be completely “theologically sound” or rooted in scripture, their fervour is. If the actions they did are foreign to us, perhaps we should look more at what motivated their decision, and to seek to understand that spirit more in our own journey. The better we are able to understand the motivation of these saints, the more we will be able to understand that their true motivation—Jesus—is the best inspiration and source for our own holiness. Embracing the universal call to holiness—Jesus' invitation for us to be saints—is to accept ourselves as we are. Learning from the saints is one of the best way of becoming who we are.

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