Can We Be Saints? Part IV - Weapons and Aids
by Frank Duff
continued from Part III - Hindrances and Pitfalls on the Way
Devotion to Mary
"Show me how you say your hail Mary's," said a great Saint, "and I will tell you how to love God." The fingertips of the other Saints -- hardened by the use of their beads -- show this same idea in practice.
You must have a tremendous love for Mary. Read and pray, and pray again, until you get that love. Implore Our Lord to give you just the love for her that He would wish you to have. A great love for her is a great sign of sanctity.
Our Lord and His blessed Mother looked to St. Joseph for their daily bread. What wonder then that the Church tells us: "Go to Joseph."
He was very dear to the Saints. In particular that great master of prayer -- St. Teresa -- has glowing things to say of the fruits of devotion to him.
The Necessity of Spiritual Reading
Read good literature; get others to read good literature; and later, all of us will do good deeds.
We must form a taste for religious literature. It must take a definite place in each day. From it we will acquire an interest in our religion; extend our knowledge of the doctrines of the Church; learn of its history, glories, institutions, opponents, and be able to answer the innumerable questions and objections which constantly proceed from friend and enemy.
There is a dearth of good religious libraries. Probably we shall have to buy the books we wish most to read. But let there be a little sacrifice, an occasional book purchased and read thoroughly, and more than once. If an author has put deep thought into his work, this will not be appreciated in one reading.
After that, let its mission be not to gather dust, but souls. Send it on a busy apostolic round amongst those friends who can be trusted to return a borrowed book. Some good religious periodical should enter our home regularly -- one which will keep us in touch with the wideworld doings of the Universal Church.
We Must Read the Lives of the Saints
We were taught to read by means of a headline. Unconsciously, we shape our lives by some headlines, too. God's purpose in bringing about the Canonisation of the Saints was to provide a headline which would draw us on to goodness and heroism.
Saints are the doctrines and practices of holiness made visible. If we frequent their company, we will soon imitate their qualities.
The Question of the Newspaper
We are inclined to think it necessary to read the daily papers in order to keep in touch with what is going on in the world. Let us beware lest they place us in the world's grip.
The modern newspaper is so well written, so attractive to the eye, that it tends to become an absorbing taste. It is a tendency of the day to wallow in the daily papers.
Endless discussion, a prejudiced outlook, a little scrappy knowledge, a distaste for serious or good literature, loss of power of concentration, faulty memory -- such are the products of those wasted hours during which God's Kingdom could have been so powerfully advanced.
Meditation, Realisation, Action
Reading is a direct preparation for prayer and intimacy with God. To meditate on religious matters, one must have read, otherwise there is nothing to meditate on The lamp has no oil. But, read slowly and think upon what has been read. Books rapidly run through and unreflected upon are as valueless as food eaten but no digested.
We must, therefore, accuse ourselves of waste of time if we read without the desire to profit by our reading Yet such is our ordinary habit. We do not meditate hence we do not realise. We leave in the unexplored depths of our souls the divine truths which should be governing our intellects and driving us on to grea things.
There is a wonderful difference between merely believing and realising. Here are some truths we all believe in:
Death is inevitable-- then judgment.
Grace is the greatest possession in the world.
Sin even venial -- is infinitely the greatest misfortune in the world.
Now to what extent do we realise these truths and act upon them?
And again. We know that the Infinite God became Man for our sake: not a King -- He wanted love, not fear -- but the shivering babe of poor people; a roughhanded working-man; a homeless wanderer -- one might almost say an outcast... and then He was taken and tortured and put on a cross to die, an object of contempt; all, that He might win our love or even our pity, which is akin to love.
Oh ! the horror of it ! Saints have cried out in anguish to think that love so great should be so unwanted by the world. For so it isl The Crucifix is only a piece of wood or metal to us. We have tears for any friend but Him!... Loyalty for every cause but His!... and why?
Because we neglected the means which common-sense directs us to use. Prayer and meditation would make Him real and vivid to us; but in our indifference, we leave Him a shadow -- and who can love a shadow? Thus it is we miss the greatest force in the world -- that personal love for Jesus, which looks for no reward, laughs at death, makes sacrifice delightful, and sanctity easy.
Meditation is so Very Difficult
There are very many who really are unable to meditate in a regular manner. These should not be so discouraged as to avoid meditation altogether. Meditation is very advisable, and some such simple method as the following can be used.
Endeavouring to bring the Master vividly before our minds, we must attentively consider that Divine Model. His slender Form, and serene, lovely Face, His words, His actions -- take them one by one, and as best we can reflect upon them with affection. What an incomparable beauty beams forth in all! Such mildness, wisdom, purity, patience, tenderness; and a love which is true to us in all our waywardness and disloyalty. Look and admire, and seek to draw a breath of their loveliness into ourselves.
We can take consolation from this... we do not seek fruitlessly. The treasury of perfection in Him is not like the treasures of the world, behind bars or in museums -- to be admired but not possessed. Each perfection shining in Jesus is there solely to be communicated to us. With all His Heart, He desires to give them to us. So look on them, and long to have them, and they will become yours.
Of this simple character may be our meditation. No regular system is necessary, though it helps. There need be no effort, resolutions even -- only a wish to love Him and to be like Him. Yet our advance will be by leaps and bounds. And why is this? It is because, as theologians put it, Our Lord and His qualities are not only holy but sanctifying: that is, the mere looking upon them with good intentions will imprint them on our hearts and make them part of us.
And let our gaze be as Mary's must have been. Ask her help in this contemplation. It was her employment from the night she first looked upon her new-born babe's face.
I Am Not Able to Meditate At All
Those to whom even a simple form of meditation is difficult, will find it very profitable to take some spiritual book before the Blessed Sacrament, and then very slowly to read it -- more in the manner of prayer than of ordinary reading. Pause frequently -- after all, every second word represents an idea -- and frequently speak to the Eucharistic Presence. The longer one spends on each sentence, the better. Ability to dwell on the reading for a time means that a very satisfactory form of meditation is being made.
Our Work for Our Neighbour
The fact that God in His Providence has left us in the world, instead of giving us a religious vocation, indicates that He wishes the world to be our vocation. That is, the persons and everyday things around us are to be the means of sanctity to us. It may be taken that the practical service of our neighbour is essential for our all-round development. We should bear in mind that serving our neighbour out of love of God means that what we do to him we do to God.
The Influence We Can Exert
The power each one of us has to influence others to good or evil is so great that it is almost without limit. The explanation of this is that when God finds a willing, a humble, a dependable worker, He uses him as a channel for His grace to others. And horrible to say, there are many who lend themselves in similar manner to be the instruments of the Devil, and accept the dreadful destiny of aiding him in his work.
A thought on names such as St. Paul, St. Dominic, St. Francis of Assisi, and on the other hand, Luther or Voltaire, will serve to show what it lies in one man to do -- to influence a whole world, century after century.
Man is small, but a man who is in earnest about an idea is not small. He is going to influence others, and nobody knows where that is going to end. Let our dominating idea be the glory of God and the salvation of souls.
Trials that show Progress
Certain trials may be expected. We shall be sneered at as would-be Saints, milksops, and upbraided with narrowmindedness and intolerance.
The latter charge should be welcome to us. It lifts us out of that numerous class who are considered and consider themselves as broadminded, when in reality they are only trimmers. Yet the charge possesses just a grain of truth which will make it hurtful to us. For, to have definite rules of principle and conduct does mean that we shall appear narrow to those who are not similarly hampered. It is part of the penalty of being right.
Some Responsibilities of Holiness
To become associated in people's minds with religion, as you undoubtedly will if you work for it, involves a responsibility. It may be unreasonable of them, but nevertheless people will judge religion in general from you. If you play a manly part, you are doing religion a benefit in making it attractive to others. If you make yourself a Universal Good Samaritan, whose tongue like St. Alphonsus Liguori's does not know how to say harsh or sarcastic things, and whose deeds are in keeping -you will draw men to you, and better still, you will make them love God, because in your goodness they will catch a glimpse of Him.
On the other hand, if you are careless at your work, dirty in your dress, mean in your conduct, you have done your religion an injury. It sinks into the gutter with yourself.
It is a big thing that Christ should thus have placed His honour in your keeping. If you are but half a man, it will stimulate you. Furthermore, it means that even the more worldly side of your life, your work in the factory or in your home, in the technical school or university or trade union, your athletics, your music, your painting, so on, can all be made to tell for Him in a very practical way.
Attacks Against the Church
Wherever you go, at your work or in clubs or societies, you will hear difficulties raised and questions asked which, perhaps, strike at the foundations of the Church or of Faith itself, and in aiding others, do not forget the danger to yourself.
Many of these objections you will be able to meet effectively from your own knowledge. Others may appear so strong as to frighten you. It is useful then to reason thus to oneself: "Whatever the objection is, there is an answer to it. All these difficulties have been raised and answered before. Great men have in all ages endeavoured to pick holes in the doctrine of the Church, and they and their philosophies have gone, while the Church lives on."
Always remember that the truth of Catholic doctrines does not depend on your ability to prove them true. Ten lifetimes would not be long enough to satisfy oneself on every point. The real proof of them lies in the declaration of the Church, which is the pillar and the ground of truth.
So do not let what someone in the works has said unsettle you. Let his objection -- even if it raises a difficulty in your mind -- only give you the opportunity for an Act of Faith:
"I don't understand, Dear Lord, but I believe because the Church teaches it, and the Church is infallible."
Read the promise of Our Lord: "Upon this Rock I will build My Church . . . and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it."
Then hear the words of Loed Macaulay, who was no friend of the Church, and see how that promise stands after nineteen centuries: "When we reflect on the tremendous assaults which the Catholic Church has survived, we find it difficult to conceive in what way she is to perish."
The Call to Good Works
In times of retreat, or at your prayers, or by the invitation of a friend, a call to some good work will come. It may be from on high, so do not lightly refuse. You may miss your life's vocation. St. Augustine speaks solemn words: "Fear Jesus passing by ... He may not again pass your way."
Breaking New Ground
Perhaps you could band together others in association to do good, and give the first impulse to what St. Vincent calls the sacred contagion of charity.
Start a little organisation. Gather a few around you for some good work. Hold a regular meeting -- weekly, if possible -- and discuss your little efforts under the auspices of prayer. You have it on His own word that He, Who can make your efforts fruitful, is there in the midst of you.
Do not soar too high. Do not be over-anxious. Look above all to the routine duties and the small details of the meeting. A punctual start, carefully-written minutes, attendance-roll regularly marked up, discussion of business and business only, affection among the members, these -- far more than organising ability or exceptional workers -- will ensure a lasting success.
It cannot be over-emphasised that the progress and the permanence of the organisation depend upon the meetings, and that the meetings in turn depend upon the system, the prayerfulness, and the fraternity which are found in them. Act mindfully of this: face calmly the inevitable ups and downs and your work may be multiplied exceedingly. All the great movements have had just such simple origins.
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Frank Duff is the founder of the Legion of Mary
. "Can we be Saints" is the first pamphlet he published aged 27 and is reproduced with permission of the Legion of Mary. All rights reserved.