One of the themes that I weave constantly throughout this blog is on the many struggles challenging authentic renewal in the Catholic Church. Some of these struggles are: being able to discern whether fruit from any initiative is good or bad, the lack of strong spiritual direction/guidance, and the generally poor understanding of the interior life and its importance in the day to day lives of every Catholic. One question naturally arises from such struggles: How on earth are we to grow deeper in the interior life or to know good fruit from bad if good teachers are far and few between? The answer lies in looking to the holy works of those souls who are now with God. We have to look to the saints!
I started to have a renewed interest in my faith early in my university days after a friend unintentionally revealed my poor understanding of some church teachings. Seeing this weakness in full light, I saw a need to educate myself to overcome this weakness. Early on I started looking at philosophy to understand some of the philosophical proofs for God’s existence, after which I went on to read many other books such as those relating to church history, proofs for the authenticity of gospels, etc. I would sort of research something I didn’t know and just learned things on the go. I went in all directions when it came to growing in my understanding of my faith. I stuck to modern authors, who in all fairness, do a great job in explaining various aspects of the faith but all this changed in July 2015. I stumbled upon the works of St. Alphonsus Liguori.
Without a doubt in my mind, this was truly a pivotal moment for me in my Catholic journey. Even how I stumbled upon his work was rather miraculous! The instant I started reading his work, Prayer: The Great Means of Salvation and Perfection, I knew this was different. Every single sentence was informative, it was nourishing and it was moving. I don’t think I read anything similar to this at this point. His explanations on the necessity of prayer for salvation and the importance of the Blessed Mother blew my mind. I always sort of knew these things to be important but it seemed I never really knew how important till I started reading this book. Not everyone will be moved in the same way I was by his work. In fact, some may really dislike his style of constantly quoting the thoughts of other saints in his work. Some may not have the grace to truly draw out fruit from his work either because we ourselves can only take away as much as the Lord is willing to give us.
I wondered why the works of St. Alphonsus moved me so much, and in time the answer was revealed to me. The saints in heaven are like Jesus Christ!
For through the law I died to the law, that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me… – Galatians 2:19-20
What is the significance of a saint being like Jesus Christ? Does it matter? We know who Jesus Christ is more or less from scripture so why do we need to look at the lives and works of saints? Let me share my thoughts on this. In the passage quoted from St. Paul, we see that as one grows in perfection in this life, they cease to exist and become like Jesus Christ Himself. Therefore, even though they are not technically saints till they go to heaven, their virtue, wisdom, strengths, etc. are approaching to be just like Jesus Christ’s. This means that when we see a saint, we see Jesus Christ. This is truly remarkable!
I have to be honest, when I read through the gospels the first time, I found Jesus to be very tough. Although we know He is loving and merciful, I also saw a very just Jesus and this side of Him really stood out for me in the gospels. His more meek and humble side were only slightly obvious to me. Yes, he willingly went and died on the cross for my sins but he was also very tough with the pharisees. Now, I imagine as one grows closer to God these realities may become evident on their own through scripture so I only speak from my own personal experience on this matter. If all the saints are like Jesus Christ then their way of life in some sense mirrors how Jesus was Himself. Let me elaborate. St. Mother Teresa was extremely kind, helpful and gave her life to help the poor. Therefore, from this earthly example I can see how Jesus Christ must’ve been as well. If we look at St. Thomas Aquinas, he had great wisdom and very knowledgeable of scripture and God. From this saint we can see another side of Jesus. If we look to the interior life of St. John of the Cross and his very strong life of prayer and mortification, we also can see how Jesus Christ was. If we look at all the sacrifices of the martyrs, we too see Jesus Christ in them. All of the saints are mirrors of Jesus Christ and this makes perfect sense:
Amen, amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him – John 13:16
By studying, knowing and loving the saints, we will constantly be reminded of Jesus Christ. It is as if God has blessed us to see these great saints throughout history as a reminder of who Jesus Christ was. Each saint will exemplify some aspects of Jesus Christ and this to me is wonderful. By staying close to the saints, we can also develop a good benchmark of what it means to be like Jesus Christ. It helps us to see how we ought to act like because the saints behaved like Jesus Christ.
If you haven’t already started reading some work by the saints, do so. Perhaps spend a little time researching a saint that is like you. We are all different and we will be moved by different saints. Find one that speaks to you and read some of their works. The works the saints left for us is a grace from God. Use it for it will bear good fruit within your life. While we may at times lack earthly guides, remember that we have these heavenly guides who have left us their work in order that we too may draw closer to union with God, as they were able to do with His grace here on earth.
Saint Lucy, pray for us!