By Fr Billy Swan
Friday 6th November is the feast of All the Saints of Ireland when we honour the great army of women and men from the past who are great lights and inspiration to us of how to live a good and happy life. But instead of focusing exclusively on the Irish saints of the past, what about the Irish saints of the present and the future? Do you want to be a saint? Probably not. Why? Because we think that to be a saint is to be perfect which we are not and secondly because we prefer not to get too close to God just in case he asks too much of us. We prefer to keep our friendship with him on our terms and hope that will be OK with him.
Thomas Merton, the great American spiritual writer of the last century, tells the story of a conversation with a friend that changed his life. His friend asked him one day what he would like to be in life. Thomas answered ‘a good Catholic’. His friend reminded him that his desire was too narrow and too weak. ‘What you should desire most of all is to be saint’ his friend said. ‘All that is necessary to be a saint is to want to be one. Don’t you believe that God will make you what he created you to be, if you will allow him to do it? All you have to do is desire it’ (The Seven Storey Monutain).
The same is true for all of us. We might scoff of the idea of becoming a saint – mainly because we don’t want to be. Yet that is who we are and who we are called to be. In his first letter, St John asks us to ‘Think of the love that the Father has lavished on us by letting us be called God’s children; and that is what we are’. To the Jews who first heard this message, it was a radically new and shocking teaching. No Jew at the time would have dared to say something like this. To be a child of God was raising us to a status far too high, to a place of honour way beyond what was dared. Yet this was the truth of who the Christian becomes on the day of our baptism.
On World Youth Day 1999, St John Paul II said to hundreds of thousands of young people: ‘Dear young people of every continent, do not be afraid to be the saints of the new millennium! Be contemplative, love prayer; be coherent with your faith and generous in the service of your brothers and sisters, be active members of the Church and builders of peace’.
Twenty years later this message is more urgent than ever. ‘Do not be afraid to be the saints of today in modern Ireland! Do not be afraid to saints in your own home, in your school, in your work and in your parish. Do not be afraid to carry God’s light of goodness, truth and beauty to everyone who is part of your life. Do not be afraid to be the salt of the earth and light to the world! How important it is to honour the saints of the past but you are the saints of the present and the future. Now is the time you are called to be one for the world needs new saints today like never before. Ireland needs new saints like never before. The only thing stopping you being a saint is not your faults but your desire. I want you to become a saint. Desire it also for yourself. You are afraid of saying ‘Yes’, of letting go to me and of change. But listen to the Gospel and the beatitudes. They are all about being truly happy and blessed. Saints are not sad but happy and joyful! Becoming a saint will make you more happy, not less’.
Friends, the French novelist Leon Bloy once said that ‘the only great tragedy in life is not to become a saint’. Think of the love that the Father has lavished on us by letting us be called God’s children. Think of your call to become a saint in Ireland in 2020. This is our calling. Know it. Want it.