Consciously or unconsciously, many of us say to ourselves, “I don’t want to be a saint. I just want to sneak into Heaven.” But asking “Do I have to do this to get to heaven?” is like the student who asks, “Is this going to be on the test?” Sometimes we just want to put in the minimum amount of effort so that we don’t fail, which in this case means going to hell. We say that we don’t presume to think that we could be saints because we think sanctity is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to achieve, and we are afraid of the demands that sanctity would make on us. So instead of striving for excellence, for perfection, we are willing to settle for mediocrity.
The problem with this attitude is that God wants us to be saints: “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt. 5:48). Thus, asking to be made holy is not prideful, but an act of humble obedience. In saying that we do not want to be saints, we are settling for our pet vices. In the words of C.S. Lewis, “The problem is not that we desire too much, indeed the problem is that we do not desire enough.” We are afraid that being a saint will hurt and that we will have to give up things we enjoy. However, God’s grace does not destroy human nature; His grace perfects nature.
No child understands that one day he will grow out of his love for his teddy bear. He will not see that there is a higher love than that of toys. When he begins to learn how to read, he does not see how his parents can enjoy such a torturous activity. Likewise, the path of sanctity is one of spiritual maturity. Yes, we make sacrifices, but they lead to greater joy and love.
Mediocrity is opposed to the nature of love. What husband asks how many times a day he must kiss his wife? Or how many times he has to say “I love you” to his children or parents in the course of a lifetime? Asking for a minimum of love in any relationship is absurd. The lover wants to show the depth of his love as often as possible. Love involves difficulty and suffering, but the one who loves deeply does not calculate the cost of love. The true lover seeks to give all. Love is not mediocre; it strives for excellence.
God has shown us the nature of love on the Cross. Christ experienced difficulty and suffering, but he did not count the cost. The price of our redemption could have been paid with one drop of his blood, but that was not enough for his love. Christ was not satisfied with the minimum. He gave every drop.
We so often settle for a minimalistic approach to love. This is one of the effects that sin has left in our hearts. It is easy for us to fall away from an initial enthusiasm that isn’t as firmly grounded in love as we thought. Then we start taking our loved ones for granted: family, friends, even God. What can we do to love once again?
Love is an act of the will, not merely an emotion. We can still love when we are tired or in a bad mood. We can still choose to give ourselves to our loved ones, whether this means listening to them vent, helping them with their responsibilities, or merely being with them when we could be doing something else. “Love is patient and kind…love never ends” (1 Cor. 13:4, 8).
Christian love, or charity, is a gift of God. It is the gift that allows us to give all to follow Christ. Charity raises our natural love for our family and friends to a supernatural level and unites us to God. We can only ask God for this gift in prayer. In love, we ask Him to draw us ever closer to Himself. We ask for the grace to be a saint.
Image: Gustav Klimt, The Kiss