One way or another

Reflections on Life
By Father Jerome LeDoux, S.V.D.
If you don’t spend time pondering what it means to be a saint and what one must do to become a saint, you had better hop to it, because you will not get to heaven unless you become a saint. What is not holy cannot abide God’s presence. So, if you die short of sainthood, something drastic has to happen between you and God before you are ushered permanently into the all-holy presence of God in heaven.
You may not believe in purgatory, but that is irrelevant. Whether you believe in purgatory or not, if you are not holy enough when you die, God will somehow cleanse you – purge you – so that you are sanctified, holy and fit to enter into God’s heaven and remain there in rapture forever. The alternative is unacceptable, quite unthinkable and in every way and by all means to be avoided, for the alternative is to be without God forever, and forever is infinitely beyond a quadrillion years.
Those who try to evade that uncomfortable conundrum are consigned to do as one inconsolable man did for his close friend who had died. Fearing that the soul of his friend might be lost because his friend, though a good man, had serious faults, he finally wrote an epitaph and put it on his friend’s grave in bold letters: “Too bad for heaven, too good for hell; where he went I cannot tell.” I dare say, innumerable people, both known and unknown to us, fit that description in uncanny fashion.
Since we must all become saints if we are to be with God forever, what are the makings of a saint? Perhaps we can begin with a pivotal pearl of wisdom shared in James 3:2, “If anyone does not fall short in speech, he is a perfect man, able to bridle his whole body also.” None of us have any illusions about just how difficult it is to master our thoughts and the resulting words that spill out through our lips. The wellspring of discipline and control of our lives resides in our thoughts and words, being never judgmental, always forgiving, ever inclusive, supportive and loving.
Must a saint do spectacular things? A few, such as Joan of Arc, do. However, by far most saints live ordinary lives highlighted by laser focus on the transforming grace of God. That leads us to puzzle over the difference between Thérèse of Lisieux and her fellow nuns. All of them did the same, daily things together, but with results as markedly different as humdrum, everyday nuns and the sanctified life of Thérèse.
A good example is Thérèse’s comment on being ecstatic, “I prefer the monotony of obscure sacrifice to all ecstasies. To pick up a pin for love can convert a soul.” So that laser focus on the good intention, on God’s mercy and grace made all the difference.
“I mean to try to find a lift by which I may be raised unto God, for I am too tiny to climb the steep stairway of perfection. Your arms, then, O Jesus, are the lift that must raise me up even unto Heaven. To get there I need not grow; on the contrary, I must remain little, I must become still less.”
Inspired by and driven by the Holy Spirit, Thérèse of Lisieux reveals in her autobiography, “Story of a Soul,” a spirituality manual that is at once a primer, a primary textbook, an undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate textbook. The proof of the relevance and truth of “her little way” of childlike trust in and love of God lies in the fact that the work was inhaled hurriedly by nuns around the world.
On Oct. 20, 1898, Mother Agnes of Jesus and Mother Marie de Gonzague, published an exceptionally long, 476-page obituary to be sent to all the Carmels in France. The 2,000 surplus copies were sold off at 4 francs each.
To everyone’s surprise, a second 4,000-copy edition was required six months later, and soon a third. In explosive fashion, by 1956 there were 40 editions, let alone translations that began in 1901. More than 50 translations were listed, with figures always being exceeded and uncontrollable as the pirate editions multiplied.
From 1969, a team continued the critical edition of 266 known letters, 54 poems (1979), 8 plays (1985), 21 prayers (1988) and the Final Conversations (1971).
Already begun during her life, conversions and cures exploded with her memoirs.
The whole work was gathered into one volume –Completed Works – running to 1,600 pages of Bible paper. The collection was presented to John Paul II and then Cardinal Ratzinger on Feb. 18, 1993. Numerous tomes written by brilliant theologians fall short of the simple biography, “Story of a Soul.” Thérèse’s work and her life moved Pope John Paul II on Oct. 19, 1997, to declare her the 33rd. Doctor of the Church, the youngest and, at the time, only the third woman.
As I pen these words, I am smiling constantly as I think of this great heroine.   –
“God is love, and all who abide in love abide in God and God in them.”   (1 John 4:16)
(Father Jerome LeDoux, SVD, lives at Sacred Heart Residence in Pass Christian. He has written “Reflections on Life “since 1969.)