Want to become a saint? Pretend to be someone you admire for a day.


Does this command of Jesus seem particularly hard to obey? “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Lk 6:27-28). If so, here is a suggestion: Try being someone else. Yes, that’s right. Play “pretend” as an adult because nothing stops us from being saints, from loving even our enemies, so much as being confined to our own ego. Be someone else, and your “enemies”—poof—disappear. You also cast away your many defenses when you simply pretend to be someone other than yourself.

Of course, it is true to say that God wants us to be ourselves, but the distance between God’s dreams for us and the person we currently are is what we call “sin.” Trying on different personalities might be a way to discover who we were meant to be. If nothing else, it gives our tired, self-centered ego a rest.


Play “pretend” as an adult because nothing stops us from being saints so much as being confined to our own ego.

I have a print of Franklin D. Roosevelt in my office. They say he charmed most everyone he met. How could a man born to such privilege be so optimistic, even ebullient, in the face of such personal and national tragedy?

No one has ever accused me of being charming unless I want to be. So somedays, when I feel less than amiable and engaging, I imitate Franklin Roosevelt and try to be charming all day long, saying things like “Wonderful to see you” and “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” By mid-afternoon, my go-to response is “Let me mix you a martini.”

Maybe you return from a social gathering knowing very little about what is happening in anyone else’s life. Could it be that you don’t listen all that much? Try being Queen Elizabeth. It is not as grand as it sounds. The real queen spends a lot of time asking people questions about themselves, always responding, “Isn’t that interesting?”

The goal of adult “pretending” is not to become another person. It is to be liberated from a suffocating sense of self by emulating the best of what you find in others.

When the bishop calls me, asking why I haven’t yet submitted something he long ago requested, this is how I avoid defensiveness and self-justification. I come clean, just like Lucy always did, in the end, with Ricky. I begin to bawl very loudly into the phone: “Oh Ricky, I wanted to send you the report. I wanted to send the best report possible. I wanted a monk to do it in calligraphy, so it would be really special, Ricky, but I couldn’t find a monk.” Doubtless, the bishop wonders why I am calling him “Ricky,” but no one wants to hear someone bawling on the phone. He immediately accepts my apology.

Did you ever notice that the God whom we experience in daily life does not have a personality? We project all sorts of attitudes onto God, but we don’t actually experience a God who is angry or petulant or annoyed. Indeed, God loves so openly, so purely and so fully that we don’t even note God’s presence without the work of grace. There is nothing of what we call “ego” in God, no need for self-promotion.

The goal of adult “pretending” is not to become another person. It is to be liberated from a suffocating sense of self by emulating the best of what you find in others.

You might ask, “Shouldn’t we all pretend to be Jesus?” Indeed, we should, but that does not seem to have gotten most of us all that far. Perhaps a humbler role is a better beginning. Imitate the holy ones whom you know. Your granddad. Your elderly neighbor. Our devotion adds nothing to the life of a saint in heaven, but imitating them on earth changes everything for us.

You might ask, “Shouldn’t we all pretend to be Jesus?” Indeed, we should, but that does not seem to have gotten most of us all that far.

Several weeks after ordination, I received my first summons to an emergency room. I was frightened and found myself wishing that my pastor had been there to take the call. A nurse met me at the hospital door and led me into the triage room. It was filled with doctors and nurses, some screaming, some racing, all surrounding a naked young man on an examination table. He was covered in blue, black and purple bruises.

I clung to the wall, worried that if I did anything I would be in the way. A nurse came over to me and said: “Father, what we’re doing isn’t going to help. You’d best do what you came here to do.”

I was petrified and ashamed. I literally told myself: “This is not what priests do in the movies. Now go act like you’re a priest in a movie!” Two doctors created a space between them as I came up to the table. They respected who I was and what I had come to do.

Folks move aside for famous movie priests like Spencer Tracy, Bing Crosby, Barry Fitzgerald, Karl Madden and Philip Seymour Hoffman. They will as well for a young, rookie priest, trying to set himself free from his own fears and strictures by pretending to be a priest in the movies.

Readings: 1 Samuel 26:2, 7-9, 12-13, 22-23 1 Corinthians 15:45-49 Luke 6:27-38

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Patricia Fox
2 months 4 weeks ago

Fr. Klein, this suggestion really astounds and challenges me. It is kind of like fake it til you make in but in the quest of holiness. Thank you for sharing this technique!

James M.
2 months 4 weeks ago

Pretending to be what is not, is hypocrisy. According to the Gospels, hypocrisy was something Jesus could not abide.

Steve Magnotta
2 months 3 weeks ago

Good piece. Some laughs, some poignancy. And good advice as well. Thank you.

Laurel Bowman
2 months 2 weeks ago

This is a really good idea. I love it. Thank you! It is really no different from modeling our behaviour on the lives of the Saints, but instead we use as models people closer to home. People we have actually met, or at least seen onscreen and admired. I already do that some in my work. I had a really wonderful mentor who believed that I had ability and did his best to foster that. It’s thanks to him that I finished my degree. His faith in me changed my life. I try to do that for my students. In fact I try to “be him” for my students who are struggling. He was not a perfect person and I wouldn’t take all of his behaviour as a model for mine, but for his students where it counted he always showed up. I never thought of expanding that approach. I can’t be the Virgin Mary, the way she has been described to us; but I can try to be like Jimmy Carter in his daily compassion and work for the poor. I can ask myself “what would Jimmy do?” because that is close enough to me that I can actually guess what it might be. Thanks very much for this thought.

Marylyn Kriebel
2 months 2 weeks ago

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