SummaryWe know the saints did crazy things for God but is such heroic love possible for us? As Amy Pawlusiak found, we are already doing it! But, it sure is hard.
“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Matt. 6:24)
“If I am right Thy grace impart still in the right to stay. If I am wrong Oh, teach my heart to find the better way.” – St. Elizabeth Ann Seton
At basketball practice the other day, I met an amazing woman. It was the first day of practice, and we were talking about our boys. My son loves to wear hats.
Unfortunately, you aren’t supposed to wear them while playing, so she helped me laugh at his small upset over removing it, and in return, she opened up about her boy on the team, who was her grandson.
Apparently, she has a daughter with many troubles, so her two grandsons now live with her. They had rough younger lives, and at 10 and 6 years old, now really loved living with their grandparents.
I’m always saddened when I hear such stories, but it also filled my heart to see such a wonderful woman who opened her home to her grandsons, at an age in life where many of her counterparts are off traveling or beginning their retirements.
Instead, she was selflessly restarting the journey of raising children, exhibiting something I truly admire – heroic love.
In our broken covetous world, many people have bought into the idea that they should put themselves first, and others come last. Being a parent, we know that this is a lie more than most.
Our love grows exponentially with each child that comes into our homes. Over time, we see how each of them needs us in different ways, so we learn to give that much more. Ours is a heroic love, which Jesus himself modeled; yet I see it slipping away in our radically materialistic culture.
It puts us at odds with many of the people who are our neighbors, family, and friends because they just don’t understand how our families can really live this “crazy” life of kids and homeschooling.
Nevertheless, these same people who are “on the outside looking in,” will often stop and compliment us on how beautiful our family is. They seem to know and appreciate it, even if they don’t quite get it. I think it’s because heroic love is beautiful. And when we see it, we can’t help but to stop and admire it.
The Saints Never Stopped Giving
When I read about the saints, I never see a saint that said at some point, “You know God, I think I’ll just stay home and enjoy life for a bit…after all, I’ve worked very hard already!”
No, most saints continued their work until the day they died (St. Mother Teresa, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton). Some worked themselves to death (St. Jerome), others died doing God’s will (St. Gianna Beretta Molla). Some worked even after they died (see St. Denis)!
Many saints who had financial means would give all they had away, then go work in the poor houses themselves in order to give that much more (St. Francis of Assisi, St. Frances of Rome, and many others).
If these are our examples, I can see why we have such difficulty in our modern culture trying to live up to them. Not a day goes by where I’m not reminded how I need to get something new for whatever reason, or if I should be putting more aside for retirement, or even, should I go back to work in order to provide a better life for our family (as if I had the time!).
I am always thinking about my future, my needs, and myself. The only thing that stops the flow of thinking this way is to think of others. Thinking of others wakes up our souls in a way that nothing else can.
There is joy in giving to a friend in need, ecstasy when seeing a prayer answered, and delight in putting myself last quietly, yet knowing that God sees.
Even the internal gratification at small sufferings offered up for someone else can bring us out of our materialistic stupor.
In order to obey God with heroic love like the saints, we need to put Him first, and this is so very hard in a culture that tells us that WE are first. Heroic love isn’t easy, but it seems to be a requirement if we want to live the life that God calls us to.
Fat and Happy
My husband often says that we live in an odd time in our civilization where many people are “fat and happy.” This just means that for most of us, we have all of our physical needs met, as well as having access to many options for entertainment, food, or whatever else we desire, whenever we want it.
It’s easy to get used to having everything we need, without having to worry about it. However, this numbs us to seeing the needs of the world around us. We are spoiled this way in our spiritual lives as well.
Here’s a good example. I heard a remarkable story by Father Mike Schmitz, the chaplain for Newman Catholic Campus Ministries at the University of Minnesota Duluth. He met a man who was born into a country where his faith was persecuted.
While there, he would have to go to mass secretly, and at one time, was tortured for days to tell where the local priest was hiding, and did not give in. Finally, he came to the United States.
At first, he was overjoyed at his ability to go to mass whenever he wanted, so he went every day. Then, he found a good job and learned that he could earn more by working more hours, so he stopped going to daily mass, and went just on Sunday.
He was promoted, and found that working on weekends would give him greater success, so he stopped going on Sundays, and started only going on Christmas and Easter. By the time this priest met him, he hadn’t been to church in years.
What his country could not make him do, give up his faith, even through torture, our country managed to do in a few years. The heroic love of his faith was replaced by materialistic idealism, and it happened so slowly, he didn’t even notice he was losing his faith until it was practically gone.
When we become “fat and happy” in our faith, we forget how much we need it, and how much we can take it for granted. So we don’t push ourselves to learn more, to be more, or to ask God for His guidance in our lives to do His will.
For many, we just go through the motions, if we go at all, and somehow expect God to appreciate our lackluster efforts. And that’s not good enough. Heroic love requires us to be fully engaged in our faith, so much so that other people stop and look, because it’s that stunning.
Heroic Love Is In Each of Us
When I was young, my dreams included a big house, a big career, and a small family. I had planned out a life where I would travel and enjoy life to the fullest, using my talents and abilities in the way I saw fit.
I wanted these things because the world said this was the right path. Thankfully, God intervened in my life and I fell in love with Him and His church. I was joyful at my newfound faith, but God didn’t ask much of me at first, because I hadn’t really come to a point in my life where much had to change.
Finally, He asked for me to live true heroic love when I had my first child. I struggled with giving up a career I had worked so hard for in order to follow my heart and my faith to stay home and raise a family.
I was reminded in prayer of a conversation I had with God at adoration as a young adult, before I had met my husband. Since I was still single, I thought maybe God was calling me to a consecrated life.
So, I told God, “If you want me to be a nun, I will. Just let me know what you want of me!” And I heard God chuckle at me and say, “Oh, I’m going to grow you way more as a wife and mother than I’d EVER grow you as a nun!” I knew then that my desire for a family would be fulfilled, but I also knew at that moment that it was going to be a lot more than I bargained for! (I remember even feeling a little afraid!) I understand now, with the wisdom that comes from living, that this is just how God grows us towards Him.
He bends us, breaks us, and rebuilds us in His image using the circumstances of our daily lives. God is our master, and He is all or nothing. Despite our human need to try to “have our cake and eat it too,” God wants us to just let Him give our cake away.
And even though it sounds tough, we often find that acting out heroic love in our lives is what makes us so much more drastically happy and peaceful, that after the fact, we wonder why we held on so hard.