We are called to be saints. Granted, it is a rather lofty directive. Few people ever really feel up to the challenge. We struggle with our earthly duties and challenges while viewing sainthood as a celestial attainment reserved for “the chosen.” However, Scripture clearly tells us that we must “strive for that holiness, without which you will not see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14) Yet how often do we view people who seek holiness with skepticism and criticism? Perhaps the doubts are not about the person’s sincerity in achieving conversion, but more about the uncertainty of achieving our own sainthood.
In 2012, the social media banter about Donna D’Errico called attention to this issue. Here is someone who left earthy temptations behind to seek out a life of holiness. Facebook postings alone from various sources revealed that many onlookers weren’t impressed by Ms. D’Errico’s conversion. It was as if she was somehow unqualified to “strive for that holiness.” Was it that her past had dug a hole too deep for her to rise from the pit of sin?
Donna D’Errico was the American actress and model who appeared on the ’90’s hit television show Baywatch. In the September 1995, she posed for Playboy Magazine as the Playmate of the Month. She was married to Mötley Crüe band member, Nikki Sixx, whose addiction to drugs and alcohol contributed to their divorce. So when she disclosed in 2012 that she had abandoned her past to embrace her Catholic faith, and live a more holy life, the commentary camp was divided. There were those who embraced the prodigal “daughter” for her courage, while others were quick to doubt her motives. It was clear that some onlookers just couldn’t reconcile how someone could walk away from that lifestyle, and find holiness as the preferred objective. Ms. D’Errico said it best. In an interview with Fox News a year ago, Ms. D’Errico was asked about how she reconciles her past with her new direction in life. She said, “I’ve made mistakes and choices in my past that I wouldn’t make today. That’s a chapter in my life that I’ve closed the door on. It’s like that’s another person. It’s not who I am today.”
Every saint has a past. Every sinner has a future.
St. Augustine is undoubtedly one of the most well known saints who had a tainted past. He didn’t enter this world in a state of holiness like Mary, the Blessed Mother. He entered this world as a sinner just like each one of us. His escapades could make any onlooker skeptical of his hopeful future for sainthood. \”The Confessions of St. Augustine\” , his autobiographical journal, is one of the most widely read and respected works in literature. It details his journey, his struggles, and his conversion. It serves as perhaps one of the most inspiring reassurances to the reader that no human being should doubt their ability to “strive for holiness.” His conversion and ability to use his experience to help others made him one of the strongest defenders of the truth, able to shepherd souls to salvation.
And yet, how many people doubt their own ability to achieve sainthood?
The Catholic Church recognizes individuals whose lives exemplify the state of holiness through canonization. [CCC. 828] The Church does not hold these individuals up as being better than any of us. On the contrary, the Church recognizes theses individuals as prime examples of what we are capable of doing, if we “live in the fidelity of God’s grace.” The Church has long held these canonized saints as our motivation. If they can do it, why can’t we?
St. Augustine is not the only saint who struggled with a shameful past. Consider St. Paul, the terrorist and murder, or St. Peter who denied Christ not just once, but three times. There is St. Margaret of Cortona who was addicted to sins of the flesh. The list of saints with a sinful past is quite lengthy.
Each saint that is canonized by the Church serves are our guide, and our intercessor. Who better to guide us through the pitfalls of this earthly life than someone who has experienced the same temptations, sins, and salvation. Taking advice from someone with no experience offers you little consolation. Taking advice from someone who has “been there – done that” builds your confidence and strengthens your resolve. It’s similar to serving as an intern in learning about a craft or profession. Learning from someone with experience in the profession or with a particular craft offers you better assurance that you can achieve the same success.
Becoming a saint doesn’t require that you be canonized by the Church.
In his book entitled Surrender, Fr. Larry Richards states that the Church isn’t a museum of saints. It’s a hospital for sinners ; sinners on their way to becoming saints. Each one of us on this earth are on a journey. Just like the saints before us, whether canonized by the Church, or held dear by only our loved ones, we will experience challenges, temptations, sufferings and hardships. Each experience, event, and choice in our lives hones and polishes us to a more perfect form. We enter this world like a rough shapeless rock form. We have so much potential. But with ever bump, nick, chip and break, we see only the flaws. Even after we make great strides and accomplishments in our lives, we choose to reflect upon our mistakes, as if they are scars. When in fact, those alterations are where the rough edges were chiseled and polished off, leaving a more brilliant glow; a brilliance that God can clearly see.
God wants to live with us for all eternity. What are we doing to ensure that bond?
In St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians (5:8) he states, “Yet we are courageous, and we would rather leave the body and go home to the Lord.” This statement reveals what every saint knows to be true. We are not of this world, but are traveling through this world in hopes of going home. We want to enter those gates of Heaven as saints. Whether we enter as Mother Teresa, or as the man across the street who gets on his knees every morning to pray before going to work, we are all saints in progress. God loves each and every one of us, regardless of our stage of progress, and He wants to be with us for all eternity.
Do you want to be a sinner or a saint? Only you have the answer to that question. God knows your heart just as He did St. Augustine and Donna D’Errico.
The most effective method in achieving sainthood is to seek the Holy Spirit in all things. Christ gave us the Holy Spirit as our guide. The Holy Spirit wants to join you in your quest and see you succeed. Let the Holy Spirit prayer by St. Augustine begin your journey today to sainthood.
Breathe in me, O Holy Spirit, that my thoughts may all be holy.
Act in me, O Holy Spirit, that my work, too, may be holy.
Draw my heart, O Holy Spirit, that I love but what is holy.
Strengthen me, O Holy Spirit, to defend all that is holy.
Guard me, then, O Holy Spirit, that I always may be holy.
© 2013. Diane McKelva. All Rights Reserved.
Photography: See our Photographers page.