Saturday, November 29, 2014

At Year's End: Conversions, Skulls, and Striving for Holiness in the Modern World

Happy End of the Year!
That's right, today is the last day of the liturgical year! Crazy, isn't it?

Go get your Advent on! 
Advent starts with the Sunday liturgy this weekend! Last Sunday (in Ordinary Form), we celebrated the Solemnity of Christ the King, and the readings reflected on the judgment that will come at the end of time. This week, the readings at Daily Mass have been pulled from the book of Revelation, which also gears out minds to think about the End Times. One year closes, and another is opening. Each year, I like to make New Year's Resolutions for the liturgical year, focusing on a way to grow in my faith. This year, I have been focusing on Divine Mercy and ways to become more merciful in my daily life. While I still need to work on that, and am (still) making my way through St. Faustina's Diary, I have chosen a new focus for my life in the coming liturgical year: modern sanctity.

I love radical conversion stories. I love hearing people talk about how they were into drugs, prostitution, atheism, or any other crazy thing, and then God turned their lives upside down and they are fervent, passionate Christians or Catholics. Whenever Fr. Donald Calloway celebrates or concelebrates Mass on campus, I think about how epic it is that a man who was kicked out of Japan, dropped out of school, and lived a crazy sinful life is now a poster child for Divine Mercy. The story of Brother Andre Love made me go, "Oh yes, Catholicism is where the hip people hang out."

As much as I love these crazy stories of conversion, I think that there are times when I've gotten too focused on the pre-conversion life. I'll get swept up in the "He did what?" shock value, and--while not glamorizing the sin--pay more attention to the lifestyle a person used to lead, rather than the life of sanctity he or she is now leading. We're fallen, broken people, and we shouldn't become discouraged from a life of holiness--but sometimes, I think we use our concupiscence as a crutch. "Oh, well, I'm only human," we'll say as we "excuse" ourselves from a sin. "The world better not end now, 'cause I'm not ready," we'll laughingly joke, continuing to live in the same way we always have.

The fact of the matter is this: God has redeemed us, and we can and should work to overcome our concupiscence and embrace sanctity! This message is one of the major reasons why I absolutely love St. John Paul II--in his writings, he emphasizes that we do fall, and we are concupiscent, but, God does not want us to act on our concupiscence--God wants us to live like we're redeemed! God wants us to live like we're seeking holiness and being made holy through His sacraments and grace! So let's do it.

I recall a story I heard about St. Charles Borromeo. Once, while he was playing billiards, a person asked him what he would do if Charles knew that he would happen to die in 15 minutes. St. Charles responded that he would keep playing pool. If he was living a life for God, worthy of Heaven, then he would keep glorifying God in all of his activities up till death.

Done by Claudio Coello in 1669;
found at Museo Nacional del Prado
I've often heard people say, "Oh, well remember that people are only saints after they die, they definitely aren't saints while they live." While it's true that, while living on Earth, we sin and fall, that doesn't mean we shouldn't strive for the greatest possible sanctity. If you strive for sanctity, what do you have to lose? Sinful habits? A good reputation in the world? I'd choose God over both of those things any day.

A year from now, I want to be holier than I am now. A week from now, I want to be holier than I am. In the spiritual life, we are continually moving further from God or closer to God. I want to move closer to God, remembering that I won't be on Earth forever; I don't have all of eternity to turn my life around. Death is real, and it will come. There are some awesome old paintings of the saints where they will be pictured with a skull. I once asked a religious sister about that, and she mentioned that sometimes, saints back in the day would have a skull in their place of prayer--as a reminder that they needed to live for God, because death would come when they weren't expecting it. We need to remember that death will come, and we need to live in readiness for whenever God decides to take us. We shouldn't be fearful; God doesn't want us to crawl into a hole our of terror. We need to live life abundantly, for God's greater glory. Today, the Franciscans celebrate the feast of All Franciscan Saints. At Mass, Fr. Denny mentioned how we need to be joyful, and how we need to be saints! Not just in Heaven, but on Earth. We need to live for God now!

Venerable Teresita Quevedo,
who provides one of the
examples of  "modern sanctity"
that I will look  at this year!
And so, this liturgical year, I will focus on what it means to be a modern person striving for sanctity. As I go about this, I will look at the lives of modern saints, blesseds, venerables, etc. I love crazy conversion stories, but I want to focus on how people lived after their conversion. How they embraced holiness each day. How they strove to become better images of God. How they brought true joy, light, and love into the world.
 This liturgical year, let's choose to be saints. 

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