“Don’t you realise that God wants you to become a saint?”
Think about that for a moment. It’s a comment I often throw into a conversation. I know what the answer is likely to be: “Oh no! Not me! I could never be a saint.”
I think that most of us have decided that there are three kinds of people in this world.
First, there are saints: – great heroes of generosity like Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta; women and men of deep prayer, like St Therese of Lisieux; and martyrs, like St Philip Evans – or the 81 men, women and children killed when a bomb exploded in a church in Pakistan last Sunday.
Then there are ordinary Catholics, people like you and me, who don’t do heroic deeds but get on with ordinary daily life.
And there are rotters like the filthy rich scumbag who never fed the beggar at his gates and got what he deserved when he died.
Think again! If saints go to heaven, and rotters go to hell, where do ordinary Catholics go?
In the story Jesus told, Lazarus, the beggar, went to heaven. Jesus doesn’t say that Lazarus did any remarkable kind deeds. His life was mostly suffering and misery. But God, who blesses the poor and lowly, takes him into heaven. That can mean only one thing: Lazarus is a saint.
When Blessed John Paul II addressed crowds of millions of young people, he frequently said to them: “Do not be afraid to be saints of the new millennium.” What did he mean by this? He spelled it out in these terms:
Listen to God’s Word.
Draw strength from God through Holy Communion and by receiving absolution by confessing your sins to a priest.
Show that human life is valuable from conception until natural death by your words and actions.
Serve your brothers and sisters – that is, look after the needs of the other members of your church community.
Where you see injustice in the world around you, do something about it.
Make peace with others.
Know what the Catholic faith teaches, and live it out consistently.
When Pope Benedict XVI visited Britain and spoke to young people three years ago, he also invite them to become saints, saying “We need to have the courage to place our deepest hopes in God alone… Only he can satisfy the deepest needs of our hearts. Not only does God love us with a depth and an intensity that we can scarcely begin to comprehend, but he invites us to respond to that love.”
Once we come to know God’s love, he added, “You begin to feel compassion for people in difficulties and you are eager to do something to help them. You want to come to the aid of the poor and the hungry, you want to comfort the sorrowful, you want to be kind and generous. And once these things begin to matter to you, you are well on the way to becoming saints.”
St Paul gave similar advice to Timothy in today’s second reading. “Be saintly”, he said, showing faith, love, patience, and gentleness. He called it “fighting the good fight”. There is a battle raging within us – a battle which we lose whenever we put our selfish needs first. It is a battle which we win whenever we choose God’s will and treat others with generosity and undeserved forgiveness.
We can support each other in the battle. We can encourage each other in good deeds. We can pray for each other. Did you notice what I prayed for all of you in today’s opening prayer? “Make those who hasten to attain your promises, heirs to heaven.” In other words I was praying for those of you present who choose to respond to God’s will quickly, to be blessed by going to heaven.
In this parish, for some years, you have prayed: “Lord, use me as you will.” But have you taken the next step? Have you sat down in private and prayed: “Lord, show me what your will is for me?” Have you tried to find the answer through reviewing the gifts and opportunities which God has given you? The Popes were speaking to young people. We may not be so young – and that makes the need to respond to God’s call all the more urgent!
Do not wait for a bolt from the blue. Jesus tells us that no-one will be raised from the dead to give a warning just to this rich man’s corrupt family. The only thing we have to prompt us is what we know already – that Jesus did rise from the dead and he left us this parable as a warning.
There are indeed three categories of people, but it works like this:
There are rotters, who do not heed God’s command – either from the voice of preachers, or from the voice of conscience bothering them within. Such persons are in real danger of spending eternity in Hell.
There are extraordinary saints, who are called to do rare things like founding religious orders, becoming Popes, or making missionary journeys to dangerous lands. Few of us will be called to these heights.
And there are everyday saints, who secure their place in heaven by – as St David once said – “being faithful in the little things”. So today I make an earnest recommendation to you: Become a saint. Be an extraordinary saint, or be an everyday saint, but either way, become a saint. Pray every day, love your neighbours and your enemies, live out your Catholic faith. After all, there’s only one alternative to becoming a saint, in the end, and I promise you this – you won’t like it!