Saturday, December 22, 2012

On Falling Short of Sainthood...

Earlier this week someone expressed concern over some words that I had written and that conversation inspired this post.  The words I wrote were these: "I know that I fall far short of sainthood..."

I think that the fracture in understanding came because these words were believed to be spoken in a proud, bragging manner, which wasn't how I intended them at all.  I was told that I needed to take a good hard look at my life if I could say such a thing.

Yet those words are the result of taking a good hard look at my life, on a regular basis.  By taking a critical look at my life I can see the cracks and crevices and rough spots in my own character that make daily or weekly appearances, and in retrospect, generally cause me to wince.

When I first converted, giving up sins seemed far easier than it does now.  The sins that had infested my life were of the big, ugly mortal variety.  I could see them coming from a mile away.  With the help of the sacraments and daily prayer I found that things that had seemed perfectly acceptable pre-conversion were suddenly disgusting.  I was repelled and wanted no part in what had seemed: "fun" a short while before.

That, strangely enough, was the easy part.

However getting rid of those major lifestyle sins, uncovered all the "little" sins that I hadn't thought about before.  The ones that aren't quite as easy to give up.

I'd say these days my major temptations would fall under anger, sloth and gluttony when I compare my life to the seven deadly sins and look for pitfalls (talk about putting myself out there!).

They're usually things that seem small : losing my temper and saying something that I absolutely shouldn't have.  Seeing something that needs to be done, that's a part of my vocation, and putting it off indefinitely, because it just feels so much better not to get up off the couch right now.  And the junk food that still temps me even after cooking three dozen eggs last week in an attempt to battle the hunger pangs.

These are sins a confessor would usually say are venial and yet, as I've battled the same ones for years now, I've come to realize that they're still dangerous.  They're easier to justify and thus let slip by.  And the fact that I'm still struggling with them can make me feel like I slogging on slowly, making little progress, asking for forgiveness and then falling face down in the mud again.

So no, I don't say that I feel that I'm far from sainthood in a way that's filled with pride as if that's some sort of achievement.  I do believe that the greatest tragedy in this life is to not be a saint.  I do believe that I'm called to raise saints and grow with my husband in our married vocation towards sainthood.  But even on good days when I feel at peace I can't help but remember Saint Paul's words to the Philippians (2:12):
"Wherefore, my dearly beloved, (as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but much more now in my absence) with fear and trembling work out your salvation."
and then Jesus own words in Saint Luke's Gospel, which also kept coming to mind as I thought about the conversation:
"Two men went up into the temple to pray: the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.  The Pharisee standing, prayed thus with himself: O God, I give thee thanks that I  am not as the rest of men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, as also is this publican.  I fast twice in a week: I give tithes of all that I possess.  And the publican, standing afar off, would not so much as lift up his eyes towards heaven; but struck his breast saying: O God, be merciful to me a sinner.  I say to you, this man went down into his house justified rather than the other: because every one that exalteth himself, shall be humbled: and he that humbleth himself, shall be exalted."  
No, I don't admit that I fall short of sainthood as if that is somehow a good thing... but I do believe it is good to know when we fall short.  It's only by realizing our shortcomings that we can pray and throw ourselves on God's mercy, and pray that he help us overcome them.

After all, if God could show Saint Teresa of Avila a room in Hell that the devil had prepared for her, I'm entirely certain I have a long ways to go and will require some serious purification before I've been made fit to stand before our  heavenly father.

And that is why, every night, our family ends the rosary with the same prayer, repeated, over and over again:  "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me a sinner.  Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me a sinner..."

I'm thankful for my readers' concern, but I think it would damage me far more to be wrongly confident in my virtues, as if I have already attained sainthood here on earth.  It is through evaluating our lives that we find we fall short and need God's grace, so that when we fall, we might pick ourselves back up, receive the forgiveness that he offers us through the sacrament of penance, and continue on again, firmly resolving to do better the next time.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me a sinner...


  1. After your introspect I am wondering if I use that verse in Corinthians as something of a crutch. Yes His strength is made perfect in weakness, so I know I don't need to worry about my weaknesses per se, but perhaps I do need to attend to them a little more.

  2. Cam, It was me that posted that. I am glad you took down all the posts that followed and our exchange. I was out of line. I want to thank you for posting your blog. I feel like you are an amazing person living an amazing life. I encourage you to keep this up.
    As far as sainthood goes I think I understand what you are saying. And yes I agree that false humbleness is really pride. I can imagine the apostles fighting over who is the least when Jesus tells them the first shall be last. ("No, I'm last, no me, no I am the least!")
    But I meant sainthood in the sense of a person who is in heaven. Not necessarily a canonized saint. Actually there can be no saint on earth because you have to be dead and in heaven to be a saint. My point is this. Yes Paul says "with fear and trembling I work out my own salvation" But we also should be confident in the sacrifice of the Cross for all of us. What I meant to say is if one feels unworthy of sainthood at any given time to me that means you would not go to heaven if you died right now. I dont believe that. I like to think that if we are not in mortal sin we are walking saints.
    You took it differently. But I see exactly how you took it now and I agree with you.
    We are all just trying to figure stuff out. But we are all on the same team. God, have mercy on me, a sinner. And Cam, forgive my fault to you. The internet can be a nasty place.

    You can post this or not but I wanted you to read it.

    Signed, a stay at home, homeschooling Catholic who finds much value in what you write.

  3. I am a recent convert (Easter 2012) and this post rang so true for me. I went to confession this week and my confessor basically said "you are on a journey, not trying to get to a destination, and don't be scrupulous along the way". Wise words indeed.

    My prayer this Advent has been from the hymn O Come Divine Messiah.... "dispel the night, and show Your face, and bid us hail the dawn of grace".

  4. I had to laugh when you said sloth because I see a Proverbs 31 woman when I read your blog on your journey. But we also know from scripture that "ALL have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God" and with the bar set that high, we can be sure to always be looking for the ever more subtle sins we commit.

    The further we journey, the more sensitive the Holy Spirit makes us and so we shall ALWAYS have plenty to struggle against and feel shame for having in our lives. Which is all the more reason to do those examinations of conscience every day. It is also why we are encouraged to, if possible, take a retreat once a year to do an even deeper examination. I actually find the struggle exciting and there is something very satisfying to know that the goal is so incredibly high and worthy!

    I appreciate how you share so openly. Your blog encourages me.

    So, I know that you are correct when you see sins to work on, but also you are correct to run those impressions by your husband and when you can, a spiritual director, so that the devil is prevented from using your determination to grow against you.

    I love St. Teresa of Avila. She is so incredibly PRACTICAL in her response to both sin and special spiritual favors (so Kipling IF of her, you know?). She and St. Josemaria Escriva are my go-to Saints for helping me to keep on track. I don't know how often I crack a book by St. Escriva only to find that I have just been given a kick in the rear by my beloved God through those writings.

    I love the Jesus prayer too. My Orthodox buddies pray that on their prayer ropes and sometimes I'll add it to the chain between the decades on my Rosary both for my sinful self and for unity in the Body of Christ.

  5. FWIW, I never took your words as anything other than a statement by someone all too aware of their sins. I could write the same words, and I would mean them from the bottom of my heart! Others say I have such patience, etc. and am a good person - yet I know my heart and the ugliness that it contains. ugh. So hard at times trying to convey meanings in written word only, and so easy for us to think we know exactly what the person meant.

  6. What kind of God sees a good, honest woman, a devoted and supportive wife, a caring and thoughtful mother, a hard worker, a devoted Catholic, a regular participant in the sacraments, a Bible-reader, a prayerful person, someone working to do good and spread the good news all while raising a large family on a shoestring budget and says: "Nope - not good enough! To Hell with you! You ate too many cookies and now you will burn!" What kind of God is that? Not one I want to know or want to teach my babies about.

    I'm not saying it's all about just "being good" and "trying your best" and anyone can go to Heaven. But Cam - for real? You are THE most Catholic person I've ever known or read about. Give yourself a break. Your children do not need to see their mother constantly insecure in her salvation or feel that God's grace is only extended to the perfect. We do not need to beg our father for forgiveness when we stumble - He is ready and willing to offer it as proved by the ultimate sacrifice on Calvary! Do your girls need to beg you and Paul for forgiveness if they make a small mistake? Of course not. God is our father, not some cruel and harsh judge that only lets a few people see eternity with Him. Let your babies grow in a household where they are secure in God's mercy and love, not fearful of His judgement and punishments.

  7. I think you misunderstand this part of Catholic theology (anonymous #2). Our house is joyful. Knowing that we should strive to do better isn't about being insecure or feeling shame. That's why the sacrament of reconciliation is so awesome. Sure I feel bad when I sin. And then I go to confession and am relieved of the burden.

    It's not about fear. It's about wanting to be the very, very best that I can, because I love God. Am I absolutely certain where I'll end up? No. Because I could commit an act that separates me from God and die without repenting. So do I try to avoid that? Absolutely.

    Our God is one who loves us and who accepts us back readily. But we have to ask. And he does call us to do all that we can do.

    Thus the whole thing about the path not being easy.

    You have to remember this was in response to a discussion where there was some confusion over my words when I said that I know I'm not a saint. It's not something I dwell on.

    Thus I have a four year old who turns as we leave Mass and whispers: "I'll miss you Jesus!" before skipping up the Church steps.

    Knowing that we sin and fall short isn't about shame. It's about knowing that we need to do bette and try harder. And it's about knowing that it's God's grace that allows us to know where we need change, and that allows us to make those changes.

    God doesn't damn us. We choose. We turn to him or we turn away from him. And we turn to him in joy, not fear.

  8. So if after leading an exemplary Catholic life, following the catechism to a T and drawing closer and closer to God, you commit one sin (maybe you gratify yourself intimately) and then die in a cat crash, you burn? Sheesh!

  9. For a sin to be mortal (the kind that severs us from God) it has to meet different criteria. It has to be grave matter (a serious sin). We have to know that it's a sin. And we have to consent to sinning.

    So yes, were I to knowingly commit a serious sin I would, in effect, be severing myself from God. That would be my choice, not his. God doesn't force his presence on us. He gave us free will. And if I choose to turn away and sever myself from him, he allows me to make that choice.

  10. So anonymous 2, if I lead an exemplary Catholic life, follow the catechism and Canon law to a T, I meet you, dislike you and kill you, and remain unrepentant you don't think I had separated myself from God enough that Hell know becomes an option?

    The thing is, little sins can become big sins, maybe not on the scale of murder, but how easily some people commit adultery, it is just shocking to hear people justify their behavior, despite the nearly universal understanding of it being wrong.

    That is why we must work on our weaknesses. Like purity, anger, laziness/sloth, gluttony, or other virtue/sin. Deciding to sit on the couch today and not do a chore that needs to be done feeds sloth. Which becomes bigger and left alone might lead to not going to Mass, not paying the bills, not going to the store to buy soap or food, neglecting ones children etc.

    We all have certain sins/virtues that are more difficult for us. Cam told us hers. Mine are anger/patience, sloth, and pride. These lead to little sins that might be venial now, but if not worked on can become enough to separate us from God.


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