Recipe for sainthood

Al Cariño
Reproduced with Permission

A story is told of a traveling portrait painter who stopped in a small village hoping to get some business. The town drunk -- ragged, dirty and unshaved -- came along. He wanted his portrait done and the artist complied. He worked painstakingly for a long time, painting not what he saw but what he envisioned beneath that disheveled exterior. Finally, he presented the painting to his customer. "That's not me," he shouted. The artist gently laid his hand on the man's shoulder and replied, "But that's the man you could be."

What can we all be? Saints. Today, All Saints Day, we honor all the saints -- known and unknown -- and pray to them that we, too, will be like them. For like us, they were children of God. And like us, they experienced all kinds of trials while still alive. So, like them, we too can become saints. How?

A good starting point is to reflect on what one author has articulated for us, namely, "The only tragedy in life is not to become a saint." Not necessarily a saint with a capital "S", a title reserved for those recognized by the Church as having lived lives of heroic virtue. But a saint just with a small "s", in the sense that after struggling through life, we will then be united with God in heaven. This will be our greatest triumph and the opposite, our greatest tragedy.

Pope John Paul II understands very well the important role that models play in the world. In the music world, there is Michael Jackson. In the world of basketball, there is Michael Jordan. These models have excelled in their own fields and the young want to be like them. They are their role models. Because of the importance of models, the pope wants to present different models -- saints -- for Christian living. To date, he has declared one saint a month, many, just ordinary people. Today, All Saints Day, it would be good to adopt one particular saint to be our life model. And there is just that kind of saint for us today -- St. Therese of the Child Jesus.

St. Therese was a young, sickly Carmelite contemplative. She was the apple of her father's eye but when she asked permission to enter the convent at the age of 15, he happily brought her there. As a contemplative, she did not do anything extraordinary. Like the rest, she did the daily and ordinary routine of the monastery. But there was something special in her. She did the ordinary in an extraordinary way. How? By doing them out of a single motive -- love for God -- and whatever she did, she presented to her Beloved as little flower offerings. She called her way of doing little things out of love for God her "Little Way."

Shortly after she died at the age of 23, she was canonized a saint. Later, she was made the Patroness of the Missions. In 1998, one more title was added: Doctor of the Church. This for her writings on her "Little Way," that is, the doing of the ordinary in an extraordinary way. It was also because of this simple way to sanctity that the Holy Father made her the patroness of the 2000 Jubilee Year celebratrions.

To be this kind of a saint, we do not have to do anything extraordinary. Rather, we just do ordinary things. But what is asked of us is to do these ordinary things in an extraordinary way -- for love of God.

Along this line, it would be good to remember that on judgment day, Jesus will not ask us how much money we have made, what academic degrees we have earned, what kind of clothes and jewelry we have owned and/or worn, how popular we have been, what position we have held, etc. Rather, Jesus will ask us whether we have given food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, clothes to those without any. He will ask us whether we have given shelter to the homeless and visited those who are sick or in prison. It is about these ordinary mundane things that He will ask us. Things which are within our power to do.

To do ordinary things in an extraordinary way, we have to do them out of love for God. As Mother Teresa of Calcutta had said over and over again, "It is not how much we do, but how much love we put in the doing. It is not how much we give, but how much love we put in the giving." And this is the difficult part, considering our natural inclination to get credit for what we do. Thus we often see the good works of some people count for nothing in the eyes of God because the element of self comes in. There is therefore the constant need to purge our motives of self. This will take a lot of doing and time. In fact, this is the one battle we have to wage throughout our life.

To be saints -- that is our calling as redeemed children of God -- we must do ordinary things in an extraordinary way, that is, with one motive -- love for God. Why not try this simple yet proven recipe for sainthood?