I have recently become obsessed with learning about the lives of the saints. Growing up in a Catholic school, we were constantly inundated with the saints, especially the martyrs. We didn’t get to wear costumes to school on Halloween, but on All Saints Day everyone was dressed in some kind of robe carrying some random object that depicted their untimely and holy death, and you gave a little report to each class about why you liked that saint the best. Then, when you reached Confirmation, you chose a saint that would stick with you the rest of your life (Of course I chose St. Cecilia- who remained chaste to God even though she got married. Patroness of music and rape victims. Great choice, 13-year-old Julie). When I have a hard time, I try to look at the lives of my patron saints, and hope that they will get me through.
But last week, during my one solitary hour of prayer (which I share with another woman in Eucharistic Adoration), I picked up a book on the saints and began to see a common theme. God does horrible things to the saints. Granted, they only show thankfulness to God for what he does, but seriously, some of these things are terrifying. Let’s take well known St. Francis of Assisi. The man received the stigmata- punctures in his hands and feet that emulate the holes left in Christ when he was nailed to the cross. Now, I’m sure that this was something St. Francis handled pretty well, but still, no one wants to take hand outs from the guy who bleeds all the time. And it can’t be convenient to clean out all the junk that gets into your open wounds when you are taking care of all of God’s animals. And surely he didn’t wrap them up, because then he would be hiding this great gift from God. Another case of the terrifying “blessings” God gives to the saints can be seen in St. Philip Neri. Praying to God that he see the Holy Spirit, God blessed him by casting the flame of the Holy Spirit into his heart, enlarging it, and breaking two of his ribs, which never healed.
Now, perhaps I am just a little cynical about the whole situation, but it looks like, if you truly want to love and serve God, you are either going to die some horrible death for your faith, or you are going to be given some outward affliction that is going to make your life complicated and probably a little icky. As a woman who wants to do God’s will, and see Him in heaven, but is a totally cognizant of world around me, I’m lacking whatever these saints had that got them to a place where they welcomed afflictions from the Lord. And I wonder why, as a human race that probably would prefer to think about the relaxed and groovy part of Christianity, we don’t focus on the saints who didn’t have to endure all that pain and the bloody martyrdom so many people dread. Surely there are saints out there that had it all: a comfortable home, beautiful healthy children, a long healthy life, free time to read or paint or something, volunteered at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen, and prayed and went to church.
Perhaps more than being a little scared to get too close to God, I’m disappointed that it appears my life can not be saintly as it is. Growing up, you were almost encouraged to live your life well, so that you, too, could be a saint one day. Now, I always knew I had way too many outward (and inward) faults to be considered a saint, but I thought, maybe it’s the kind of thing you grow into. If sainthood is something that blossoms in you as you grow, I’m doomed. At 5’1’’ I came up a little short in the compassion, patience, and clean language areas. And perhaps that is why I can’t comprehend or appreciate the “gifts” God gave to the saints. Hopefully I’m spiritually maturing slowly over time, and one day I will be able to welcome a relationship with God that results in disfiguration. But I’m not there yet. And maybe God will bless me with a closeness that doesn’t require physical trials. Maybe I’ll be blessed to serve my God the best I can, and in the end I’ll show up in heaven and He will say, “Hey, I was hoping you would make it up here! Didn’t expect those twins, did ya? Well, they survived to adulthood, so even though they didn’t know it on earth, you achieved sainthood when they hit thirteen.”
Whatever God’s plan for my life, I’m not going to stop striving for sainthood. But I will be praying that if I get there, all my appendages are intact and I died of old age in my sleep. And perhaps God will bless me with the open heart I need to accept whatever relationship I can have with Him.