I was going to post a different article today, but after hearing Tuesday’s news, I just didn’t have the heart for it. Last week, I was feeling a little down over the state of the country and the world. The stripping of our religious freedoms at home, the increasing terrorists attack abroad, and an electoral race that shows no concern for the sanctity of life – all of these were beginning to weigh down on me.
And then came Tuesday’s news: the story of Fr. Jacque Hamel’s atrocious assassination by the cruel hands of an 18-year-old ISIS terrorist during Holy Mass.
Sometimes it feels as if Christians are being attacked on all sides and as if we are losing all the battles. Sometimes I feel helpless, swimming against a malicious tide that grows ever stronger. But on Saturday I heard a homily (thanks Fr. John!) that brought me a lot of hope and encouragement. And Tuesday’s tragedy set the priest’s words ringing in my ears ever more clearly. The point of his homily was this: Holiness is the only solution to all the problems of the world. We have to be saints.
Fr. John was echoing an age-old teaching of the church. In his letter to the Thessalonians, St. Paul wrote: For this is the will of God, your sanctification (1 Thess 4:3).
At World Youth Day in Cologne, 2005, Pope Benedict XVI exhorted the young:
The saints … are the true reformers. Now I want to express this in an even more radical way: only from the saints, only from God does true revolution come, the definitive way to change the world.
It doesn’t matter whether or not we believe we can be saints; we have got to try anyway. And events like Fr. Hamel’s murder or the gruesome killings of the four Missionaries of Charity in Yemen should compel us to pray more fervently. They should inspire us to work towards greater peace, first in our families and then beyond. And they should move us to take ever more seriously our call to be saints. They should not become just another newsflash quickly forgotten on this side of the Atlantic.
No matter how insignificant and obscure we may feel, our holiness (or lack thereof) makes a huge difference. We are called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. (Mt 5:13-16) What is salt, but a tiny grain? Yet what a difference a little salt makes. And one little candle light can dispel a whole lot of darkness.
We need to be saints.
In the recesses of our homes and in our day-to-day lives, this means we try to be more patient, smile a little more, pray a little more, love a little more.
Moreover, if we are to be saints, as parents we must also try to raise our children to be saints, people who love Christ so much they are willing to die for their faith. If you raise a saint, that saint might become a martyr. Have you ever thought that your child could one day be a martyr? A horrific thought from a natural point of view, but a beautiful one from a supernatural point of view. To know that one’s child has won the crown of martyrdom, to be certain beyond a doubt that he or she is with our Heavenly Father for eternity, should be an immense source of spiritual joy for any Christian parent.
Recall the remarkable woman in the Book of Macabees who had seven sons. Her sons were being martyred for refusing to eat unclean food. When the last son was left to be killed, she entreated him:
I beseech you, my child, to look at the heaven and the earth and see everything that is in them, and recognize that God did not make them out of things that existed.Thus also mankind comes into being. Do not fear this butcher, but prove worthy of your brothers. Accept death, so that in God’s mercy I may get you back again with your brothers.” (2 Macabees 7: 28-30)
St. Sophia, an Italian widow who lived during the reign of Roman Emperor Hadrian, also urged her children to die martyrs rather than renounce their faith. Days before their martyrdom, she urged her three daughters:
My daughters, for the sake of the honor in which you will be held by Christ, Who is more comely than the sons of men, do not spare your flesh. For the sake of life eternal, pity not the bloom of your youth nor hesitate to suffer the deprivation of this fleeting life, for your Beloved, Jesus Christ, Who dwells in the heavens, is eternal well-being and beauty inexpressible. When your bodies have been tortured to death for His sake, He will robe them in incorruption, and the wounds which you bear on your flesh will shine like the stars in heaven.
At a moment of martyrdom, would we be willing to encourage our children to do the same? Let’s pray for that grace.
Not only must we be ready to accept martyrdom for ourselves and our children if that is what God will ask of us, but we must prepare them for it.
Do we teach our children to make sacrifices for others, to endure hardships with courage, and to smile through suffering? Or do we always try to make life soft and easy for them so they are always seeking comfort and pleasure?
Do we teach our children to practice their faith even when it is inconvenient or unpleasant? Or do we make excuses for skipping or watering down some of the practices and teachings of our faith? Do we teach our children to respond generously to the needs of the church? Or do we let them think that doing and giving the bare-minimum is good enough?
Do we inspire our children to a fervent love for God? Do we read to them stories of saints and martyrs that fill their minds and move their hearts with heroic acts of faith, love, and courage? Or are we content to see them lukewarm and nonchalant, especially with regard to Christ in the most Holy Eucharist?
Finally, and most importantly, do we teach all this by our own example? Because if we don’t, we’re not teaching at all.
The church needs saints. The world needs saints. In a letter announcing the the World Youth Day of 2005 would be in Cologne, Saint Pope John Paul II wrote: The Church needs saints. All are called to holiness, and holy people alone can renew humanity. This comes from a Pope who lived through WWII and suffered under the Communist Regime. By his own sanctity, he played a key role in the downfall of Communism.
So let’s remember that: holy people alone can renew humanity. Why holy people? Because they are the ones who correspond to the graces of God. They are the ones who discern the will of God and carry it out in their lives.
So when it seems that the world is falling apart and there’s little we can do about it, think again. We can change the world. We should change the world. Simply by being and raising saints.