That which you most desire

Bishop Jorge Rodriguez

In our Catholic tradition, we esteem the saints of heaven and ask them to help us with their prayers. But along with the assistance brought us by their intercession, these brothers and sisters of ours awaken in us a dream, a dream that is sometimes dormant — the dream of becoming saints like they are.

The saints are part of the great crowd of men and women that the Book of Revelation describes as innumerable, from every race and nation, clothed in white robes and adoring the Lamb in the heavenly liturgy. Only God knows the name of every one of them. But many of them are perhaps people we knew or our own loved ones.

All of them motivate us to turn our gaze heavenward and they bring us to discover in the depths of our hearts the most sincere and authentic longing we experience: the longing to be saints.

Why can this desire for sanctity never be extinguished in our hearts? Because that’s how God made us: to be saints. This longing is sealed within ever spiritual “cell” of our souls. Because, as St. Augustine said, “You have made us for yourselves O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.”

Sanctity is that which belongs only to God. God alone is Holy. Sanctity is the beauty, the goodness, and the splendor of God who is love. Only by contact with him can one become holy. Thus, sanctity can be understood as a relationship of love. This is also what we understand by “life of grace,” that is, a life lived in the love of God. Our hearts were made to love, and for nothing else. Hate does violence to our hearts. Thus, if you were to ask your heart what it most sincerely desires, it would unquestionably respond that it only wants to love, but that its thirst for love can not be quenched until it is full of Love itself, which is God.

St. Augustine has a rather daring phrase: “Love and do what you will.” But he adds immediately, “but love.” He is convinced that if we truly love God, we will not want to do anything that could offend him. That’s why the Christian life should not be lived on the defensive, concentrating on avoiding sin. Instead it should be lived in a very active way, seeking to love God more every day. To live each day, as St. Teresa of Avila said, “seeking to please my Captain in everything.”

The saints are those men and women who love God with their whole soul. And I am sure that you know one of these people personally. And I am also convinced that you want to be one of these people.

If you ever go to Los Angeles, visit the cathedral. Along the inside walls are beautiful tapestries presenting the Communion of Saints. One hundred thirty-five saints from all over the world are depicted there, including the canonized saints of North America. As well, there are 12 figures who are not identified, including children of various ages. They represent the anonymous saints who live among us — these ones that you meet every day. Who says this yet unidentified saint can’t be you? In fact, this is what you most desire in the depths of your heart!

COMING UP: Why stay in the Church?

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There are many people who have either left the Church or are currently considering leaving because of the scandals of recent decades. We have felt pain and righteous anger at our leaders and have suffered scandal from their betrayal. For some, the grand jury reports and lack of accountability for bishops have been the last straw. It’s hard to blame people for feeling this way, but we have to ask with Peter, “to whom, Lord, shall we go?” (John 6:68).

Significantly, this question comes after many disciples walked out on Jesus for his teaching on the Eucharist, and it is the Eucharist that should be at the center of any response to the crisis. Peter answers his own question: “you have the words of everlasting life” (John 6:68). The Church is Jesus’ own body in the world, and we are members of his mystical body, given eternal life by consuming his own flesh at Mass. Without the Eucharist, Jesus’ presence in the flesh, the very heart of the Church, where would we be?

Bishop Robert Barron echoes Peter’s question in a recent pamphlet-style book, with over a million copies in print, Letter to a Suffering Church: A Bishop Speaks on the Sexual Abuse Crisis (Word on Fire, 2019). He turns to the Bible and Church history to look for perspective on the crisis. Because of the centrality of the Eucharist in the Church, the betrayal of some of our priests and bishops takes on greater significance. They act in persona Christi at Mass, offering the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross to the Father, and we depend on them for our sacramental life.

Fortunately, the validity of the sacraments does not depend upon the sinlessness of priests, but rather the holiness of God. Barron points out, however, that priests will not get off easy, given the extremely harsh words that Jesus offers to those who lead children astray: “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me;  but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin,  it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the man by whom the temptation comes!” (Mt 18:7-9). Barron also references the punishment of Eli, in 1 Samuel 2-4, who as priest and judge of Israel watched his own sons, who were also priests, abuse the people. Barron argues that this scene gives us the best example of God’s retribution for allowing abuse to happen and not correcting it.

Barron also looks at the tumultuous story of Church history for context on the current crisis. Although the Church is the mystical body of Christ, he references St. Paul assertion that we bear our treasure in earthen vessels, as evidenced by the human weakness of Christians throughout history. In fact, this weakness manifests the Lord’s grace guiding and preserving the Church in spite of us. Barron quotes Belloc that a proof of the Church’s divine foundation “might be found in the fact that no merely human institution conducted with such knavish imbecility would have lasted a fortnight” (43). Heresies, sinful popes, and sexual perversity have not fundamentally destroyed the Lord’s work, even if they have turned many people away. God has promised to remain with his Church and his providence will guide us especially through dark moments.

The crisis challenges us and raises the question of why we are Catholic. Most of us have been born Catholic and may take our faith for granted as something we’ve inherited from our parents. We may view belonging to the Church like membership in a voluntary organization. Rather, our life as members of Christ’s Body is a gift from God that changes our identity and unites us to God and our fellow Christians. As we experience challenges to faith, it is an opportunity to embrace this identity even more strongly — not as something that depends upon myself or anyone else in the Church, but on God. We go to Church to honor and thank him and to receive his grace, not to be a part of a human organization.

The Church is a family, called together by God, but, like any family, we experience pain from our own and each other’s sinfulness. As family, we can’t give up on each other, but have to “stay and fight” as Barron exhorts us, helping each other to be faithful to the mission that Jesus gave us: to love one another as he has loved us and to share the Good News of his salvation.

Featured Photo by Josh Applegate on Unsplash