I remember being in the first grade at Saint Mary’s School and getting dressed up as St. Gerard Majella. My mother had found a painting of St. Gerard and then proceeded to fashion an outfit for me that matched his appearance in that painting perfectly. And I mean perfectly. I had a long black robe, straight out of Hogwarts, with a thick white rope tassel belt around my waist and for that entire day, I carried around a 15 pound gigantic crucifix everywhere I went. For one glorious day in the 1960s, I was St. Gerard Majella.
Now I must confess that my only real knowledge of this saint, known as the patron saint of mothers, expecting mothers… and those who were hoping to someday become mothers… was that my own mom used to say all the time that she had prayed to St. Gerard that I would someday be born. Given that I ultimately was born, I always felt a certain debt of gratitude to him for his assistance in making this possible.
When I was a child, my concept of the saints was… like a child’s. Saints to me were the epitome of spiritual perfection. These were a rare breed of individual, ones who were completely devoted to God and who had figured out a way to essentially never sin. To me, sainthood was a noble but far-fetched and impossible goal. Sainthood, I concluded, was not for me.
As I grew older and learned about saints like St. Augustine who lived a life of treachery and scandal but who changed his ways and then viola… sainthood. Or St. Paul who persecuted the early Christians and had a moment of great and shocking insight and then viola… sainthood. My adolescent sense of sainthood was that these were regular, everyday people who had experienced a profound transformation. In this phase of my life, I hoped for, even waited for, such a transformation to happen to me. I wanted to be knocked off my horse by a blinding, piercing burst of light and then voila… I’d be a saint. When no such moment came, I figured sainthood was not for me.
But then as I grew older still, I began to learn about saints such as St. Teresa of Calcutta who faced fear and loneliness throughout much of her life. Or the Little Flower, St. Therese of Lisieux, who so vividly described her own suffering and the negative impact that had on her faith. As I grew older and learned about the imperfections, the struggles, the very humanity of the saints… I understood that sainthood is not about arriving, it’s about the pursuit, the striving, and the road you’re on and the manner in which you walk it. It’s about being willing to invite Jesus into your life and trusting in him. Suddenly, sainthood didn’t seem so strange and so unattainable to me.
Sainthood is not about perfection. And it’s not about transformation. It is about regular people… like you and like me… who accept Jesus’ invitation. An invitation so beautifully crafted and delivered to us in the form of today’s Gospel reading. That invitation is to sainthood. It is an invitation to pursue, to strive for… those things that are laid out for us in what we refer to as the Beatitudes.
According to Jesus, if we are to become a saint, then we are to be poor in spirit, mourners, meek, hungry and thirsty, merciful, clean of heart, peacemakers, insulted, and persecuted.
I don’t know how to be perfect. And I don’t want to wait for the lightening to strike me and to transform me because that may never come. But I do think that if I try harder, I can be these things: meek, a peacemaker, merciful, insulted, persecuted.
Ultimately, we have to decide what to do with that invitation. Whether to toss it aside or to accept it.
Jesus hand delivered the invitation to each of us.
I’m thinking of RSVPing yes.