Friday, August 17, 2012

Be Yourself

At the end of an especially trying day, when the people she was trying to serve were more obnoxious than usual, Dorothy Day turned to a crucifix, looked intently at the image of the Christ, and blurted out, "Jesus, do you know how hard it is to love you?"

Trying to be Christ-like is the hardest part of being a Christian.

We can far more easily believe that Jesus is divine, that the Eucharist is truly the Body of Christ, that the Church is one, holy, catholic and apostolic, than we can follow Jesus's instructions: "Love one another as I have loved you....What you do to others you do to me."

People like Dorothy Day, Peter Maurin, Tom Dooley, Katharine Drexel have made heroic efforts to love their neighbors and imitate Jesus' patience and compassion. Their example leads us to call them prophets and saints.

On one occasion a fan and supporter of Day's Catholic Worker movement told her he thought she was a saint. Day turned on her admirer and replied, "Don't call me a saint; I'll not be put off so easily!"

Many of us doubt we can ever achieve sanctity because we know what goes on within our own minds and hearts. We struggle with pride, we become frustrated, we rebel. We tell ourselves that saints don't act like that, and we yield to disillusion.

Thomas Merton experienced this sense of defeat, but discovered this insight:

"Many poets are not poets for the same reason that many religious men are not saints: they never succeed in being themselves....

"They wear out their minds and bodies in a hopeless endeavor to have somebody else's experiences or write somebody else's poems or possess somebody else's sanctity....

"They waste their years in vain efforts to be some other poet, some other saint. For many absurd reasons, they are convinced that they are obliged to become somebody else who died two hundred years ago and who lived in circumstances utterly alien to their own." (cf. Seeds of Contemplation)

Day may have thought that saints found it easy to be saints. Too many biographies of holy men and women fail to convey the humanness of their subjects. The decision to follow Christ is one thing, execution of that decision is another. Jesus clarified the cost: "If you would be my disciple, you must pick up your cross..."

Saints come in differing shapes, sizes and circumstances. There is no "one-size fits all" template.

It is as if God supplies the building materials, but the blueprint and construction are left up to the individual builder.

Saints are not slavish imitators; rather they are inspired by those they admire to keep up the effort.

Each manifestation of sanctity is unique. None of us can be Mother Teresa, Pope John XXIII, or Elizabeth Seton. We can only be ourselves --in Christ.

1 comment:

  1. I don't think we have any Saints from the Catholic Worker movement. Of those you list above, Only Katharine Drexel has been made a saint. I think the Catholic Church will find it hard to have saints in movements which have a socialist tint to them since the Catholic Church has no real support for communist thought which it condemns. I love helping those in true need to right the ship to helping themselves, but we have too many who forget that helping others to gain employment and work ethic is the true freedom, not dependency on government. As we in the US move toward government as the answer, we all lose as government does nothing very well and removes our freedom in the process. A country that owes 16 trillion dollars is a country headed off the cliff