A friend said to me recently, “I need you to be a saint.”
I realized I don’t know how to do that, and it was a sobering realization.
Oh, I know what it takes: a heart disposed to love and a will conformed to God supported by daily prayer and frequent use of the sacraments. The difficulty I’m having is applying those things consistently in my own life. After all these years as a Catholic, I still haven’t figured out the how.
It’s natural, I suppose, to have times of flourishing and times of dormancy in the spiritual life. But in order to grow in holiness, in order to be a saint (an ordinary saint), there must be growth in virtue which means spiritual discipline. And discipline and I have never been closely acquainted.
In looking for advice, I’ve read articles on how to have daily prayer, the practice of offering up the duty of the moment, going to Adoration, the benefits of having a Spiritual Director, and plugging into a support system like a prayer group or young adult’s group.
However. Some of the factors I’m dealing with (aside from being discipline-challenged which is something I just have to deal with) is that I live in an area with limited access to daily Adoration or prayer groups, and asking about spiritual direction results in puzzled faces. I’ve left young adulthood well behind and the only gatherings for people my age are separated and divorced mixers. As for daily prayer – the real heart of my struggle – my schedule varies so widely from day to day that establishing a fixed routine is difficult.
That sounds like a lot of moaning, doesn’t it? You’re right. It is a lot of moaning, and I’m moaning because I know that the stumbling block is me. I’m the one getting in the way of daily prayer, Mass, and Adoration, and I’m the one who allows the distractions of other priorities to turn me away from seeking God first. Somehow those two factors are symbiotically linked because one always leads to the other in a continuing cycle.
I believe that God calls each of us to holiness; that His desire is for each of us to be saints. But how could it be meant for me when it would seem I’m the reason it isn’t happening? I would have thought it was impossible – or at the very least painfully difficult – for me to overcome the obstacles until someone rather offhandedly reminded me that God created me. He does! He knows me, He designed me and gave me my personality and characteristics. He knows how I handle life and respond to situations. And because God doesn’t give us challenges He knows we can’t handle, it must be that I have the ability to handle the challenges of ‘being a saint’. The trick is to discover how.
I’ve learned a lot about myself over the years. I have had a good Spiritual Director in the past, have a good therapist now, and read as much as I can in order to understand myself. For example, I’m an introvert (INFJ in Myers Briggs typology) so I require a lot of downtime when my job has me interacting with the public for long periods of time. I need long stretches of quiet in order to be able to pray well which means I have to be on guard against distractions like spending too much time online, or constantly having the radio on in the background. That’s one key.
I’ve also learned that I access and understand my thoughts best by writing them down. For this reason, journaling has become a very important element in my spiritual life. It helps me focus on what is going on not only in my daily life, but interiorly as well. I find it easier to bring important matters to God after clarifying them first by writing them down. Writing helps me figure out what I am thankful for, want to pray about, need help with. It helps bring me into the presence of God.
One of the questions I asked myself is, “What does the life of a modern saint look like?”
When I think of saints, I think about the Little Flower or Mother Teresa – two modern and very holy women I find very inspiring. But because my life isn’t anything like theirs, I could easily give up the effort. No way am I capable of being as meek and humble as Therese, or as indefatigable in service as Teresa! Or, what also happens is I despair because I try to live like they do but can’t sustain it and think I’ve failed.
But we’re not meant for failure! God asks us to be holy and He doesn’t ask anything of us we can’t handle so it must be possible.
An answer might be found in this wonderful quotation from St. Francis de Sales in his Introduction to the devout life:
“There is a different practice of devotion for the gentleman and the mechanic; for the prince and the servant; for the wife, the maiden, and the widow; and still further the practice of devotion must be adapted to the capabilities, the engagements and duties of each individual.”
What relief, what consolation in those words! St. Francis de Sales isn’t letting me off the hook here, because he writes very clearly that each ‘class’ of person has a duty of devotion, but he is just as clear that the practice of that devotion for each person is unique to their circumstances in life and what they are – practically – able to do.
In other words, my own practice of devotion is unique to the circumstances of my daily life and the quirks and foibles of who I am. Perhaps, then, the hour-long meditative prayer at dawn I was imagining myself doing isn’t realistic, nor what God is asking of me. Perhaps, too, all the quirks of my personality are legitimate factors I need to consider as I work toward more established and consistent devotions. Those factors may be stumbling blocks, but perhaps they also include strengths God has provided in order for me to grow in holiness.
For example, I know about the need for silence, and I know that journaling is also essential for me. God wrote those two elements into who I am as a person, so I can use them to draw closer to Him, to strengthen my prayer life, and, ultimately, to be a saint. Just as I am.