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Saturday, August 2, 2014

Rocky Balboa, Sainthood or Hell...

Getting Strong Now...
"Either we become a saint or we go to hell!" I quoted Fr. Larry Richards at a recent meeting of my parish men's group.

"In fact, Jesus tells his disciples to be perfect as the Heavenly Father is perfect," I continued.

I could sense a bit of apprehension in the room, sort of like the discomfort you get in your shorts after spending all day sitting at water's edge on the sand in the beach, as the ocean tide cascades off, in and around your body.  (It may feel good initially but after a while the abrasiveness of the rocky particles inside your pants really start bothering!) 

One of my friends tried to soften the blow for the newer guys, "Now, when you say saints, you don't mean that we have to become saints, like John Paul II, but that making it to heaven means we're saints, right?"

I knew where he was coming from, since Fr. Larry's comment was received with the same enthusiasm as an eskimo being told that the desert of the house is ice cream, as he meant it to, when he said it to over five hundred men at an Archdiocese of Miami conference I attended.

If you think about it, it would have been a cruel joke for Jesus to have played on His disciples if He told them to be perfect like the Father, knowing their human inclination to sin, and not given them the grace to do so.  And, that's where the Sacraments come in.

Every time, we receive absolution in the sacrament of Confession, we are cleansed, like the heavenly hosts described in the Book of Revelation, who washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb, and filled with God's grace to be perfect, which is why the first thing Christ did after the Resurrection was give His Apostles the power to forgive sins and why the popes go to Confession weekly! 

Each time, we, in grace, receive the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist, we are perfected in Him.  We encounter the same Jesus that walked the face of the earth, performed miracles, was crucified and resurrected two thousand years ago! And, we become One with Him, like a bridegroom with his bride in the union of their two bodies.  This is some deep stuff, here!

However, many of us can't imagine becoming saints or achieving the perfection that God calls us to.

In his classic, The Seven Storey Mountain, Thomas Merton writes on a conversation he had with a friend on the topic.

"I can't be a saint," I said, "I can't be a saint."  And, my mind darkened with confusion of realities and unrealities.  The knowledge of my own sins, and the false humility which makes men say they cannot do the thing that they must do, cannot reach the level that they must reach:  the cowardice that says, "I am satisfied to save my soul, to keep out of mortal sin," but which means, by those words, "I do not want to give up my sins and my attachments."

It reminds me of the infamous man of debauchery turned saint, St. Augustine of Hippo, who once wrote, "Lord, make me chaste, but not yet."

We all have the greatness and ability within us.  We just have to want it.

When St. Thomas Aquinas, who is one of the greatest minds in Christian history, was once asked by his sister, "What do I need to do to be a saint?"  He answered, "Will it."

Gonna Fly Now..
And, I could just imagine the bells ring in the background, like when Adrian came out of her coma in Rocky II and, after seeing her newborn baby, tells Rocky, "There's one thing I want you to do for me: win! Win!" and Mickey yells out, "What are we waiting for?"

But, then comes the hard part; Rocky has to get disciplined, train, mentally prepare, and, like St. Thomas Aquinas stated, will himself to victory.

Fr. Larry is right, we either become saints or we go to hell.  The sooner we accept that, the sooner we can start training and preparing for the ultimate victory... 



Jorge Costales said...

Maybe it just comes down to how the word 'become' is being used.

If 'becoming saints' were replaced by 'striving for saintliness,' I think that would put Fr Richards in more conventional Catholic territory.

To me striving for saintliness acknowledges it as a point we cannot expect to arrive at [in this world], but acknowledge as our ultimate goal.

The word become is defined as 'to come into being.' So when you 'become' something, to me it clearly is meant to convey that that something tangible has been achieved.

So either Fr Larry needs to tighten the language or I'm getting you a new CD.

Carlos Espinosa said...

Thank you, Jorge. I could always use another CD!

But, to me, to take the biblical sense of the word "saint," which means set apart, as St. Paul calls those who believe in the Gospel, we are already saints.

We just have to live as though we are...