Getting into heaven despite our human frailty
To get into heaven, we need to be saints. There is no other choice. Quite often we believe the saints are only those who have a halo around their heads, who have a statue in the church, who have their name imprinted in the calendar and who appear on one side of a card with a prayer written on the back. Because of their virtuous lives and their exemplary love of God and their neighbors, those canonized saints are not only our intercessors, but also role models in following Jesus Christ, each according to his own vocation and state of life.
This is so important that Pope Francis has given us this year the gift of his apostolic exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate, in which he reflects on the call to holiness in today’s world. This document is a must-read for anyone who takes his faith seriously and who has going to heaven as his only last goal in life. In this exhortation, the Holy Father explains how we can be saints through a series of simple yet deep reflections.
Going back to the canonized saints, their lives were exemplary indeed. Yet, on occasions their example seems unattainable to me. Every time I become aware of my limitations and see their pious facial expression always looking subtly up to heaven, standing high in churches forcing me to look up at them, they simply become unreachable. I know me and know I am a mere human being — one who has faith, but also gets afraid; one who has conviction, yet hesitates; one who is determined to follow Jesus, but able also to betray him any moment; one who confesses his sins, but trips once and again on the same hurdle. I just have so many defects! How can I even think of achieving holiness when I look at the holy statues of the saints we venerate? This is why the sacred images of those saints don’t help me sometimes — I am not like them.
Those images are meant to represent the virtue of the saints in a symbolic fashion. The reality is that all of them were human beings. Except Mary, the Immaculata, every saint who sports a halo today used to be weak, fallible, and a sinner, just like me!
In the Gospels I see those Twelve whom Jesus chose after spending the night in prayer. At first, they were not really worthy of our admiration — their faith was hesitant, their hope was distrustful, their love was selfish, their perseverance was low, their weakness was evident, their arrogance a bit too much. They were as ambitious as the Pharisees, cowardly enough to desert Jesus at the decisive moment, intolerant to the point of willing to burn a village to ashes, extremely ignorant … until the Spirit blew upon them. The sandcastle Jesus had built became then a solid rock palace. Clay was transformed into a rock and death became life. That is encouraging to me! If I can be as weak as the apostles, with God’s grace I can also embrace his Divine Spirit and be transformed.
I would like to know which sin St. Paul laments when he confesses himself in his Letter to the Romans. “I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate. … When I want to do right, evil is at hand.” (Romans 7:15-21) I like this better because that sounds more like me. But I must never forget that this same Paul was also the apostle of the gentiles, preaching the Gospel through the last corner he could reach.
The lives of the saints were not perfect. But despite everything, they were lives of conversion, reparation, fight against temptation, abundant love to God, and generosity towards their neighbors. By fighting our own weakness and turning back to our Father, we will attain, through his mercy, the holiness he has called us to.
Be passionate about our faith!
Read the Spanish version of this column.
Northwest Catholic - September 2018