Are we becoming saints?

The details of the dreams vary, but not their theme. It’s always anxiety. I’m again a college freshman, and I’m signed up for Math 101. Trouble is, it’s finals week, and I didn’t know that I was enrolled in the course. I figure that I might still pass it—in real life I had been exempted from it—if I can only find out where the final is being held. I wander the campus, asking, but no one knows.

I’m again in a high school play. My part is small, and I don’t go on stage until the second act. I play a Pie Judge at the county fair, who urges the heroine and her sister to take their pies to the State Fair. Trouble is, the curtain has risen, and I’ve only just learned that I’m in the play. I reckon that I can act the part, learn the lines before Act II arrives, if only I could find the script. But all the actors have meticulously followed the instructions of the director. They are “off script,” and there are none to be found back stage.

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I’m a priest, in the middle of Mass, but the missal in front of me is new. I have never seen it before this moment, and I can’t find the proper prayers. I flip, more and more frenetically, through its unknown pages, while the congregation waits.

There’s a worse version. I’m ready for Mass, but, as I check to see that my chasuble is hanging properly, I realize that I have nothing on under it. Not a sacred stitch. What am I to do? Mass is starting. Move very, very slowly?

The details of the dreams vary, but never the theme. It’s always anxiety. We worry that, at the worst possible moment, we won’t be ready. Life itself will find us wanting, and everyone will know it.

We celebrate the Solemnity of All the Saints. It’s a good time to remember that there is really only one thing about which we should be anxious. Are we fulfilling the purpose of our lives, of our very existence? Are we becoming saints? In the end—at the end—that’s the one thing that matters: not to be found wanting before God. To become a saint is the reason we were created. We come from utter truth, shear goodness, absolute beauty, and all that we do on earth, all that truly matters, is to return our lives, sanctified in their seasons, to their source, the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

After this I had a vision of a great multitude,
which no one could count,
from every nation, race, people, and tongue.
They stood before the throne and before the Lamb,
wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands.
They cried out in a loud voice:
“Salvation comes from our God, who is seated on the throne,
and from the Lamb” (Rev 7: 9-10)

 

Anxiety and sanctity are diametric. Most of what makes us anxious has nothing to do with holiness. It’s woven from the mundane, the personal and the petty. It passes. We need to remember that. When holiness is the focus of our life, anxiety begins to fade.

What does it mean to pursue holiness? To become a saint? It’s so simple. Do what life hands you today, with as much peace and joy as your prayers can muster. Your lesser self will suggest that these daily tasks are trivial and unacknowledged. The Spirit, who dwells within you, will insist that God and the angels watch. They observe what will become eternal in your labors. You are anxious over that which will pass.  

The reason the world does not know us
is that it did not know him.
Beloved, we are God’s children now;
what we shall be has not yet been revealed (1 Jn 3: 1-2).

 

Still unsure if your anxiety is well placed? Write down the worries of your day in a column. In an adjoining column, write out the Beatitudes. Now, compare those two lists. Either your worries will become trivial, or you will know that they deserve all that you can give.

Be anxious not to be found wanting before the throne of God. Time is not exhaustible. It will end for you as it does for all. Nonetheless, life is now crafting something eternal from these temporal tasks: your sanctified soul.

Revelation 7: 2-4, 9-14  1 John 3: 1-3  Matthew 5: 1-12a

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Beth Cioffoletti
2 years 1 month ago
Amen. How often I need to be told this. (Every day). Thank you for telling me, once again.
Sandi Sinor
2 years 1 month ago
Lovely sentiments, but, simplistic for many. Could you please expand on this - " Either your worries will become trivial, or you will know that they deserve all that you can give." I am often anxious, but my worries are not trivial. Several family and close friends are dealing with health issues. There are problems facing grown children, such as employment challenges, retirement issues for us, major decisions that have to be made. So what specifically do you mean about giving these worries "all we've got", especially since there is little we can actually DO to impact the situations causing worry. Perhaps easier for those who have no spouses, children or grandchildren - far fewer people to worry about!
Bruce Snowden
2 years 1 month ago
Hi Sandi, I'm a grandfather of 84, my wife and I having parented four children, one of whom went to the Lord in the third month of the first trimester through miscarriage. Our three other children all into their 40s now have given my wife and I, six grandkids. Over the 48 years of our marriage we have had much to worry about, but guess what? We have discovered that worry solves nothing, instead creating other problems. As Jesus pointed out, "Worry is useless!" It really is. In facing life's impnderables try St. Ignatius of Loyola's way, "WORK as if everything depended on yourself (towards solution and an important part of it) but PRAY as if everything depended on God (it does.) Also, living by Faith show yourself that you can trust God. The American Servant of God, Capuchin Franciscan Venerable Father Solanus Casey put it this way, "Always planning for our very best, God condescends to use our powers if we don't spoil His plans with ours." Simplistic? No, simply true! Please pray for my family and we will pray for you and your family. God Bless you!
Sandi Sinor
2 years 1 month ago
You mean well, and thank you for that. But, people have different kinds of problems. It is very easy to say that worry is useless - obviously it is. But it happens anyway because we are human beings. We aren't God. We can't see whatever grand scheme might be involved, we have to live through the day to day challenges. There are worries and there are WORRIES. Some are more easily let go than others. When tragedy strikes someone we love, one that is not easily fixed, it may be "holy" just to not worry and trust that somehow God will make it right, but observing real life in the real world shows that God often does not make it right. Promises that it will all be made right in the next life aren't of much use in this one, when dealing with the day to day realities of the hardships. So we worry. Sometimes people are crushed in spirit by these events, these worries. Those, like celibate priests, who are without their own spouses and children have fewer people to worry about. They are not without worries, but their worries are different than the agony parents often go through. They also usually don't have to worry about the everyday stuff regular people worry about - getting evicted because they can't pay the rent, or having a child who needs special therapy that isn't covered under insurance and having no money to pay for it as their loved child continues to spiral downward. There are countless examples that I could describe that cause worry that isn't solved by saying Don't worry, Let go and Let God. (as someone I know often says) Sometimes it's that easy, but sometimes it isn't. Telling people who worry that they shouldn't, just to trust God, can just add a layer of guilt on top of the worries. Now they not only worry, they feel guilty for worrying, because that means they are not "good" enough christians. This advice can come across as condescending. I know that is not how you mean it, but please be careful when telling others that what works for you in your particular circumstances will work for others in theirs.
Terrance Klein
2 years 1 month ago

Sandi,

As one who preaches almost every day, I am aware that homilies never say all that could be said.  I could go through almost every sentence, which I write, and add, “But also, or, and on the other hand.”  But then folk would rightly complain about the length of my sermons.

You do employ a tired trope, which needs to be challenged: that celibates don’t know about the real world and its worries. Yes, religious life does shield one from much, though I’ve experienced most of the financial troubles you list.  (For years, I was paying my own way in academia.)  The week I wrote this piece, I had sat with a mother who was burying her son, saying myself that no one else knew her pain.  I’ve buried my own mother this past year.  Lived as the Church intends, celibacy plunges one into the sorrows and worries of others.  I don’t know of a day in which I’m not asked to share them, to make them partially my own. 

Humans often feel that no one has troubles like they do, but I don’t think that this notion is of the Spirit.  There is little purpose here in listing the troubles and sorrows that come with celibacy.  We don’t win anything by claiming the most worries.

I stand by my original point, which is that there are worries we should own and worries we should let go, and that the Beatitudes can help us to discern between the two.  You’re right that worries come with the human condition.  What’s surprising is that you would think that the one you list might not be worthy of your attention.  This note comes with a prayer that the Lord be with you in your worries.

Sandi Sinor
2 years 1 month ago
Thank you for your response. It is rare that authors even acknowledge what their readers have said. What’s surprising is that you would think that the one you list might not be worthy of your attention I'm not sure what you mean by this. Which "one" did I list that is not "worthy of my attention"? I don't recall saying anything like that. Every worry I listed is "worthy" not only of attention, but it is worthy of worry! My point is that sometimes this kind of advice comes off as trite, and also as trivializing the reality that some worries ARE about serious things. Paying one's own rent for a few years as a student is a pretty common thing. But priests have far more economic security than most people - at least in the richer countries. They have a place to live usually and don't have to worry about paying the rent or getting evicted, and the entire family having no place to live. I have a friend who once came home from school in about 7th grade to see all of his family's furniture and possessions lying all over the sidewalk. They had family to go to, but too many end up in a homeless shelter. Priests don't ever have to worry about things like that. They don't have to worry about how to pay for their child's medicine that is desperately needed but not covered by the insurance and there is no money to pay for it. There are simply a lot of worries that are not part of the celibate lives of priests - by definition. They may support others in their times of need, but their understanding is never the same as that of those they are trying to help. It can't be. I wish more priests would show some humility when giving homilies to married people and parents, and show that they understand that their understanding is limited. Paying the rent is not one of my personal worries, at least right now and I am grateful for that. But I have known people for whom it is and it can be spirit-destroying, faith-destroying, especially if they are given trite advice such as "pray and let it go", or "own it and do something" (sometimes there is nothing that they can do).. I have buried both parents and an older brother, who was only 47 when he died of injuries from an accident. I experienced a lot of grief, especially for my brother because he was so young and his death was so unexpected. But I know, without having experienced it (Thanks be to God) that this grief is nothing to what I would feel if my husband and I lost a child. I have had friends who lost a child and, as a mother, find I can't even think about the grief they experience, because I feel it in their DNA, in their souls and bodies, not something a celibate can feel. Empathizing with others, as priests do, as friends do, even as family may do, is a common experience. But I don't think any of us can grasp the depths of agony of most parents who lose a child and it's somewhat arrogant to believe that we can. At least you recognized that the grief of the mother you spoke of is beyond your understanding. Right now, in my life, my worries are "ordinary' worries and my comments aren't prompted by my personal situation. They are prompted by what I have seen in the suffering of so many others, suffering that is not helped by superficial spiritual advice. I just feel that those who brush off anxiety and worries as being ALWAYS something that can be remedied by prayer or remediated if we just work hard enough at it come across as not really understanding and it can also seem somewhat patronizing as well. You wrote: The details of the dreams vary, but never the theme. It’s always anxiety. We worry that, at the worst possible moment, we won’t be ready. Life itself will find us wanting, and everyone will know I don't know many people who have not have the sort of anxiety dreams you describe. But, those dreams are simply indicators of what is going on with our lives. Sometimes we can "do" something about them and sometimes we can't. Sometimes they are trivial (a deadline at work) and sometimes they are not If we can't do anything, and the problems are serious, few can simply pray the anxiety away. If they are told they "should" be able to work on the challenges or else let them go with prayer, and they can't do either, then an extra layer of guilt is added. And the issue isn't personal embarrassment at making a fool of oneself - the issue isn't worrying that "everyone will know". Anxiety and sanctity are diametric. Most of what makes us anxious has nothing to do with holiness. It’s woven from the mundane, the personal and the petty. It passes. Another guilt trip? Yes, a lot of what we worry about is mundane. Agreed. But not all of it. And even if it is more 'mundane" and we still worry does this mean that we can't try to live lives of "holiness" if we are anxious? Even when what makes us anxious is "mundane, personal and petty", and it doesn't just "pass". This is why my first comment said that the 'homily" of the column is simplistic. It's one of those things people read that "sound good" until you drill down a bit and think about it. I ...sat with a mother who was burying her son, saying myself that no one else knew her pain. I’ve buried my own mother this past year. .... celibacy plunges one into the sorrows and worries of others. I don’t know of a day in which I’m not asked to share them, to make them partially my own." Parents, from the second their child is born, experience unbelievable joy - and suddenly in the same second they have worries and anxieties that they never thought about and which are not making "partially" their own - they are literally all their own, and will be no matter how old their children become. I once commented to my sister that I had thought that once my children were grown and on their own and doing "OK" that I could relax a bit and live with less worry, but it's not true. As she put it, 'Motherhood is a life sentence". Each of us may share our worries, losses, griefs with others, who may empathize, but the others do not experience them the same way. We non-celibates are also called to sit with others, to hold their hands, to share their sorrows. Because we do this, because I have done this more times than I care to think about, I know that what I feel, even in empathizing and supporting friends and family whom I love and who are experiencing extreme crisis or loss, is not the same as feeling it myself. I'm sorry, but that is my opinion. Like Bruce, I know you mean well. But I think that all of us should think more deeply sometimes before offering this kind of advice. I had to learn not to try to tell a close friend that I "understand" her worries about her severely disabled child - because I don't. I can't. I have been spared that particular sorrow and it would be arrogant of me to say to her when she confides her worries to me "I understand, but try not to worry".
Bruce Snowden
2 years 1 month ago
Hi Sandi, I don’t want to get into an ongoing back and forth on your “worry” issue, but I would like to say the following as briefly as possible, hopefully helpful to you. Fr. Klein is right in saying celibates are not exempt from worry and are well acquainted with family problems, shared with others along with their own. They know what family worry is about, often weeping quietly at least in the heart I speak with certitude on this subject, as I was for fifteen years vowed to celibacy as a Religious Brother. Sixty years ago on my way to final commitment a psychiatrist told my Superior I was suffering from Anxiety Neurosis and was unfit for Religious Life. Yes, I know a lot about worry! Some years later I chose to voluntarily leave Religious Life , marrying two years later and now 48 years in Christian marriage. My previous post speaks a little about that. Anxiety Neurosis causes one to worry about everything. I took this “bull” by its horns and decided with the help of God I was going to break my cycles of worry and I did! I did so by developing absolute trust in God, understanding that God works with an individual as he/she is, using personal determination to sinew the soul, sort of like what St. Paul said, “When we are weak, then we are strong!” And I became strong with my Anxiety Neurosis shackled, worry mostly a memory but ever eager to break loose which it sometimes did, only to get shackled again through the power of a religious life, rooted in the growth-experience of total trust in God. Fragile are human judgments! A human judgment determined I was unfit to lead a Religious Life, and yet it was by a religious life that my anxieties (worries) were beaten flat! But not beaten dead! As a result, I agree with this “stupid” assertion of some Saints, that even if Jesus would put them in Hell, they would still trust the Lord! I’m no saint – ask my wife, ask anyone who knows me, but I find myself in full agreement with that sainted “stupidity” I hope this helps you. God bless you! P.S. Respectfully, reread my original post along with this.
Sandi Sinor
2 years 1 month ago
Bruce, I don't know if you are still checking this thread. I haven't for a few days, and so missed your response. I think there are differences - I am not talking about anxiety neurosis, but about justified worry and anxiety. Not all anxiety is due to neurosis. Nor am I talking about what Fr. Klein's describes - minor worries - something that embarasses us - Life itself will find us wanting, and everyone will know it. My point is that not all worries are minor, simply embarrassing moments. Some are quite severe and those who worry about those are not necessarily suffering from anxiety neurosis. That is a different category also. I think that when we put all kinds of anxiety into one basket, as this article and you also seem to do, then we may miss some important realities. You wrote: Fr. Klein is right in saying celibates are not exempt from worry and are well acquainted with family problems, shared with others along with their own. They know what family worry is about, often weeping quietly at least in the heart Of course priests have worries, including family worries. But few worries equal the worries of parents when there is a SERIOUS challenge with a child, or when losing a child, or a spouse, and few Catholic priests ever experience this. My point is that when Fr. Klein calls this oberservation a " tired trope" he is wrong. It is truth, even if he prefers not to see it. As a priest, he has worries I don't understand because I am a married woman and mother. I may observe that priests have troubles, that some deal with addictions (alcohol and food seem common), with loneliness, with the challenges of aging parents, or a sibling with problems, or with exhaustion at trying to help their parishoners. But he does not - cannot - understand in his very DNA what the loss of a child means to a parent. Certainly priests counsel families, they help them through challenges and through losses. But it is all from a certain distance - at arms length. They may feel sad for the people going through these things, but they don't feel it in their own guts, to use a somewhat crude expression. I provided an example from my own life - I can empathize and cry with my friend with the seriously disabled son, her worries for what kind of life he would have as an adult, her huge anxiety over what might be his life once his parents are gone, her guilt about "neglecting" her other children because of the enormous time and energy her disabled son requires from her. But I don't feel' it as she feels it, and to claim that I do would be arrogant. I think many priests are arrogant when they give simplistic homilies that imply that they understand these challanges and losses just as deeply as parents and spouses. They don't. They are observers. Maybe they are caring observers, but they are still dealing with it as an observer. Sometimes praying doesn't work. A statement like this: Anxiety and sanctity are diametric. both trivializes the depth of anxiety some feel and are justified in feeling and is almost insulting those who do feel anxiety about something no matter how much they pray and how much they trust God. It just adds guilt to the anxiety. So, my message for all of us is simply - think before pontificating on matters which may not fit into the neat little formulae we have devised. Do not trivialize the anxiety of others nor assume that simple prescriptions work for all. Do not insult others because you think what works for you will work for them and if it doesn't, it's because they must not be trying hard enough.
Bruce Snowden
2 years 1 month ago
Hi Sandi, Thanks for responding again and know I am sorry I didn’t help your problem with worry. Everyone who posted also tried to help, but somehow you were unable to see the light offered because your fog of worry was too encompassing. As you know encountering trauma in life is part of its reality and no one is exempt. Here’s some final example from my family life. Briefly my Mom buried three of her children, a terrible thing to have to do. One of them, a brother drown at sea. His twin had a heart attack a few years later and died. Another, my sister returned home following successful cardiac surgery to suddenly die of a ruptured pericardial sac. Another sister suffered a life altering stroke and has been in a Nursing Home for fourteen years. I forgot to mention that our Mom raised six of us singlehandedly as our Dad unable to cope with responsibility disappeared. I was the oldest and at ten, suddenly he wasn’t there anymore. Later my wife underwent triple bypass and subsequently had four stents inserted. One of our sons in his late forties and father of two young children had two brain surgeries. Another son also in his forties has had fourteen orthopedic surgeries. And this is only part of the story in our family life, trauma, after trauma, and worries without end. For me the best answer has been Jesus Christ and heartfelt belief in what he went through, a young man disgraced by public execution amid incredible trauma along with his Mom who had to endure the public humiliation of her child mocked, spit upon to die a miserable and excruciating death! And I should complain? No, Sandi, for I take as true Paul’s teaching that, “For those who love God all things (not something) work together (not separately) unto good.” This is the Faith I live by and will die by, a great comfort but not a remover of worry or trauma, but lots of joy and strength to endure lovingly and hopefully to prosper in God’s Grace. God bless you! May you find peace. Postings are finished, having said I think, all I can say.
Sandi Sinor
2 years 1 month ago
Bruce, I'm sorry for the many difficulties your family has faced. I am happy that you have found a way to find peace in the storms. However, I believe you have missed all that I have tried to say in my comments, perhaps because, like all of us, you believe that what has worked for you works for all. All of us tend to be self-referential. The point is to be aware of it so that you can be sensitive to the other and not assume that they are exactly like you. My comments were not really meant for you. I know that having to give homilies almost every day, to write regularly, are hugely difficult tasks. It is hard to find anything new to say for one thing! Yet those who have this responsibility should be careful to try to listen with the ears and hearts and minds of those whom they are addressing, especially those who think that priests are fountains of all wisdom and that everything they say must be true. They are not, and carelessly constructed spiritual counsel can cause more harm than good among the vulnerable. Priests who blithely dispense advice in homilies, necessarily abbreviated due to time constrainsts, face the risk that they may actually induce more anxiety and guilt among some, who may come to feel that they are somehow at fault for worrying.Worse than that, they may feel that if they continue to have worries, in spite of prayer, in spite of trusting God, that they are somehow failing and have no hope for 'sanctity" in their lives. Most would understand that they are not at fault if they are anxious, and would ignore simplistic homilies and statements like "Anxiety and sanctity are diametrically opposed" or "Be anxious not to be found wanting before the throne of God." But Fr. Klein could have expanded more on his statement about putting aside anxieties or "owning them" and "giving them all you've got." Expanding on those thoughts might be helpful, and not likely to induce guilt among those who may have a new worry after reading the main part of the essay - that they are doing something wrong, and because they are still worrying, they will never achieve holiness and they will be found wanting by God. Some of the statements in this essay could put a new burden on those who are anxious about being found worthy before God. They should either not be said at all,or the meaning should be expanded and clarified. I have another friend who is now dealing with almost a complete loss of faith. She has always been one of the most prayerful people I know, her religious faith permeating everything she does and every conversation we have had in the 35 years I have known her. She herself would often dispense advice about trusting in God, turning over all worries to God, quoting scriptures like the famous passage in Matthew about the lilies of the field to others. But now, for the almost the first time in her life she is facing a crisis that will not be resolved, no matter how much she prays. She doesn't understand why she is facing this when she has always been so faithful in prayer, working to be in heaven, trusting God. She has often counseled others in her church about this. Too many people are simplistic in their approach to prayer and anxiety. OK, so I too will stop now. Internet discussions in com boxes are always difficult. But it seems that you have not understood what I have been trying to say. I am glad you have found a way to personal peace, but with one caveat - don't add to the worries of other people by by making them feel that if it doesn't work for them, they are doing something wrong if they aren't freed from their particular individual worries by prayer, making them feel that they must have (too) "little faith".
Richard Booth
2 years 1 month ago
Hi Sandi...not having read your entry prior to submitting my comments, I find myself very much agreeing with you. Many priests, as you suggest, are non-participant observers. I also agree that there are different levels of anxiety and that even serious anxieties do not, per se, move us away from sanctity. In fact, that which concerns us greatly may be that which makes us holy.
Richard Booth
2 years 1 month ago
My experience has been that most priests are concerned from a distance and celibacy itself does not preclude indifference, lassitude, and pomposity. I have seen this for years, but especially when our 16 y/o son died. The priest came to the mortuary for less than three minutes and failed to console anyone. It appeared that he did not know how. A priest cannot know personally the pain of those he might be consoling. That is true. But, having been a member of an order years ago, I saw indifference up close and personal. I do not doubt there are some priests who care, but have not seen or known many.
Richard Booth
2 years 1 month ago
One more thing. The author argues that anxiety and sanctity are diametrically opposed. Well, being a mental health professional for many years, I can say that psychopaths/sociopaths have less anxiety than other people. Does it follow, then, that they are holier than most? Come now, "Father." The implications of these ideas need to be considered more deeply than they are presented in the article.
Winifred Holloway
2 years 1 month ago
Bruce, I read your comments on this blog and often I am not in agreement with you. In this comment, I do agree . Attempt to do God's work in the world and trust in him. And all will be well .
Bruce Snowden
2 years 1 month ago
Hi Winifred, Glad I make sense to you sometimes. All I (anyone) can do is to express the best they can what they believe in. Thanks for commenting

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