The Secret to Sanctity
In little over a week, we will celebrate the great feast of All Saints and the commemoration of All Souls. It is good to think about the saints who are examples and models for us of living a faithful life – faithful to God and faithful in love toward their neighbor.
And it is good for us to recall those who have died, not only with sorrow for our loss, but with continuing love. We pray for the souls in purgatory, so that they will be freed from anything keeping them from beholding the face of God in perfect happiness.
How did the saints get to be saints, and how are we and those still journeying supposed to get there?
The simple answer is: Jesus. He is the Way.
St. Teresa of Avila, a great mystic and teacher of prayer, wrote that all the saints came to holiness through the humanity of Jesus Christ. There is no other way to God besides the Way that God himself gave us when the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
Jesus wants us to draw near to him and walk with him. That way we can also learn to walk with one another. And the closer we get to Jesus, the more we realize how unlike him we are. But we can also realize how much he alone is our way.
The publican in the Gospel today shows us this. He comes to pray, but he hardly feels worthy to enter God’s house. Like a good Catholic – from the back of the church – he makes a humble and honest prayer to God. “O God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” (Luke 18:13) Unworthy he may be, but he talks to God – and God is listening.
The Pharisee, on the other hand, only talks to himself. He doesn’t say anything to God. He just congratulates himself on being better than the rest. Considering his opinion of others, he sets a low bar, and he barely even lives up to that.
Like the publican in today’s Gospel, the blind man Bartimaeus in Mark’s Gospel called out to God for mercy. “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me.” (Mark 10:47) Jesus heard him, drew near, and healed him.
The Jesus Prayer is a practice from Eastern Christianity that combines the prayer of the publican and that of Bartimaeus. It might be a good prayer to keep in your mind, in your heart and on your lips. “Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
Jesus alone is the secret to sanctity, the only way anyone becomes a saint. Look to him, and call out to him for mercy. He is listening, He draws near, and will never refuse our prayer for mercy.