During the papacy of John Paul II I heard a priest friend of mine saying at one stage that he thought it was crazy the way John Paul was making (or ‘canonizing’) so many saints. He was saying, ‘What is the point of it?’ But I told him that I disagreed with him because I believed that one of the things that the pope was doing was showing us that holiness is something that all of us are called to and that many people reach. The great thing about what John Paul was doing was also the fact that he officially recognised (canonized) so many lay people as saints. In the past there was a misconception that one usually had to be in religious life to become a saint and generally those who were canonized were priests or religious. The truth is that there are many saints all around us, but most of them we will never know about until we reach heaven ourselves. Everyone who reaches God in heaven is a saint and that is our destiny. That is what we are called to.
A common misunderstanding that many people have is that a saint is someone who never does anything wrong. That is naive and completely unrealistic. If you read any reasonably accurate life of any of the saints you will notice two things that all of them have in common. First of all they were ordinary people who struggled with their humanity like any of us, but they also had a great love for God and they were open to God. Secondly, they all suffered quite a lot during their life and this struggle, which all of us are faced with, is part of what brought them closer to God. The suffering they went through—which all of us also have to go through, because it is just part of the journey—was part of what formed them and drew them closer to God. Perhaps one of the differences between them and some other people would be that in spite of the difficulties they were faced with, they kept coming back to God. They kept getting up again when they were knocked down. There is a proverb that says, ‘It doesn’t matter if you fall seven times, so long as you get up eight times.’ The saints didn’t give up. When we are down it is often very tempting to say, ‘Where’s the point? I couldn’t be bothered.’ It is not always easy to get up again, to admit we are wrong, or to have to try again, but that is what we are called to. That is what makes a person blossom.
God is calling all of us along the same path; the path which leads to him. It is not the easiest path, but it is the only path that is really worthwhile. That is why Jesus taught us, ‘What use is it for someone to gain the whole world, but to lose his soul?’ Everything here is passing and no matter how much we ‘achieve’ in the world’s eyes, that is not what counts before God. That is also why it doesn’t matter before God whether we have been successful or not, as the world sees it. It is great if you have, but it is not what is important before God. That also means that the person who has become the head of a big company has no advantage over someone who is unemployed, or is even living on the street, because that is not what counts before God. We are not called to be ‘successful’, but to do our best. What we are called to above all else, is to love God and to love the people around us and this is possible for everyone.
The one thing that God will never do is force us to follow him or to love him. God continually draws us forward, but we can resist, and we often do resist. However, the beautiful thing is that no matter how many times we resist or turn away, God will continually call us back and lovingly welcome us back every time we turn to him again. That is largely the struggle which we have to go through in this life until we get to heaven ourselves. It is not guaranteed that we go to heaven for the simple reason that if it was, then our free will would mean nothing. But heaven is what God wants for us and the Lord will make that happen unless we totally and completely reject God by the way we live. Sadly some people do seem to completely reject God and everything to do with God by the way they live. Yet we never know that for sure and that is why we can never judge the heart of another person, even if their actions are wrong.
‘It doesn’t matter if you fall seven times, so long as you get up eight times.’