Sunday, July 13, 2014

"Where Are Their Sins?"

I've often heard Catholics ask about the Saints, "Where are their flaws? Where are their sins? They seem so perfect that it's almost inhuman." Seeing these Saints and their lives, rather than being awed and inspired, they are rather turned away because they cannot form any connection. Unfortunately, there is something to be learned from most hagiography, which is this: the lives of the Saints as recorded tend not to focus on the Saints' struggle for holiness as such. The purpose of hagiography isn't so directly didactic; its form, not so framed by the contemporary interest in self-help.

When this point is understood, people will be freed from the illusion of trying to draw out of hagiography what simply isn't there. Every Saint underwent a struggle for holiness because every Saint had to overcome original sin and its consequences. Nevertheless, some Saints were "sped" along this path of purification faster than others because they had a mission to fulfill that may have been more extraordinary than others. Thus, for example, we see people such as St. Paul or St. Francis of Assisi. Other Saints were called to such a high life of union with God that they too underwent their purifications very rapidly although they did not live without intense suffering, such as St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Gemma Galgani, or St. John of the Cross.

Most of us come from the perspective of laity living in the world with daily concerns. It is admittedly difficult to find many examples of lay Saints whose lives we can connect with not only spiritually but practically. The life of the 21st century is radically different than it was even 30 years ago, and this for many reasons.

Nevertheless, we should always understand when reading the lives of the Saints that they too had to undergo intense self-discipline and struggles to be rewarded with the deep holiness that God brought them to. Knowing this, reading hagiography shouldn't discourage us. Perhaps it may even inspire us to make the struggle so that someday someone may write about our lives and provide for future others that example that they may need.

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