Weakness, the Starting Point of the Greatest Saints

I don't know about you, but I often have grandoise, or at least ambitious, plans to do these great things and change myself, the world, or whatever, for the better.  For instance, I was a bit disapointed in myself this past semester because I got really busy with a lot of (great) things and didn't have as much time as I wanted for other (greater) things, like reading those books outside of class, or visiting those churches around Rome that I haven't seen yet, or creating videos around the Eternal City, etc.  So, I've been thinking about next semester and trying to plan on making room for those things.  I want to spend 2 or 3 hours each afternoon reading/studying, at least an hour praying, and, more specifically concerned with this blog, I want to spend more time blogging, like, 30 minutes every day or something.  Problem: I didn't have that much time last semester, and I don't think I'll suddenly have an extra couple hours each day to devote to these, and other, projects, this semester.  It's disheartening!  I want to do so much and then I not only don't get those things done, but I fall down in so many other ways as well!  

So right now I'm actually in Krakow, Poland for something called the Tertio Millennia Seminar, where myself and about 34 (ok, exactly 34) other students from around the US and Eastern Europe are studying the history behind, life of, writings/teachings of, and impact of St. John Paul II.  It's absolutly amazing, not only to be studying in such a cool place, under such great professors (George Weigel, the guy who wrote that thousand-page biography of JPII, is one of them), and in a program instigated by JPII, but all those factors combined with the lucidity, power, applicability, and impactfulness of the teachings of our late, great, pope, and the fact that he's one of my personal favorite saints, is just amazing.  

Long story short, that actually has to do with my complaint in the first paragraph.  Something I've realized over the past year is that I have a streak of a perfectionism, or maybe just over-achieverism (is that a word?  yeah, probably not...) in me, and so when I see a great saint I want to be like them.  Now, obviously, I know that we're all called to a specific time and place, with specific talents, abilities, graces, and history, all of which God directs at an individual vocation, but I still want to be a saint (that's kind of the whole point of being created in the first point).  And so, when I hear that JPII prayed for 6 hours a day (and brought down Soviet communism), or John Vianney lived on a potato a day (and spent 18 hours in the confessional), or Mother Theresa was an absolute beacon of joy while in the midst of great interior darkness (and opened like 500 centers during her life time to care for the poor/ill), I want to be like that.  Saints are just super inspirational, and I get all fired up to live the faith like they did ... and then I fail to even get close.  I don't get even my holy hour in every day, I struggle to pass up one invitation to go get ice cream, and when I get distracted in prayer I give up so quickly and don't even try to give my attention to God.  

Thankfully, there's an answer in our greatest model, Jesus Christ.  Now wait, you say, He is God and man, absolutely perfect, absolute love, how could He possibly be a easier example to follow?  Isn't following Him shooting even higher and doomed to even greater failure?  You think JPII prayed, look at the example that Christ gives in the Agony (and so many other times)!  You think that the Cure of Ars sacrificed, look at calvary (or just Our Lord's life in general)!  You think Mother Theresa's prayer life was dry, listen to the cry of anguish on the cross - "My God, My God, why have you abandoned me" - as Our Lord is burdened beneath the wretchedness of all our sins.  And this is a valid complaint, there is no way we can "match" Christ in his generosity, mercy, humility, obedience, sacrificial love, prayer, or anything.  Yet He still tells us to "be perfect as Your heavenly Father is perfect."  Aren't we doomed to failure?  

No, we're not!  Look to Christ, look to those saints, what did they do?  They were perfect, just as God is, in giving their all.  JPII had the grace to be able to pray for long periods of time, inspire people with his words, and not sleep much, and so He gave that time and ability to God.  Vianney was given the physical endurance to fast constantly, yet minister so completely to so many penitents who flocked to them.  Bl. Theresa of Calcutta was given the strength to carry on, in joy, in the midst of great trial and distress.  All these saints though - and this is the big point - weren't completely, divinely, perfect, they were perfect in as much as they gave everything - their weakness and their strengths - totally back to God, totally in His service.  Saints aren't people who don't have weaknesses, they are those who allow God to fill their weaknesses with His grace.  

These thoughts were running through my head as I knelt in Adoration in the Church of St. Florian here in Krakow (Fr. Wojtyla's first parish after his ordination), and I was very grateful to Our Lord for inspiring me as I gazed at the crucifix, not only with this idea of the weakness of the saints, but also of the weakness of Himself on calvary.  Jesus must have wanted to give so much more on the cross, yet He couldn't, He was physically limited in how much torture he could endure.  Why was He "only" on the cross for 6 hours or so - Pilate himself was surprised when he found out that Our Lord had died so quickly - couldn't he have shown His love in an even more astounding way by even greater sufferings?  Now, don't think I'm saying that Our Lord's sacrifice was inadequate, or that it wasn't one of the most brutal, painful, deaths in the history of the world, His incarnation alone was more than enough to save all of us, but, Christ is all love, and He chose the passion to show that love to us in a most raw and amazing way, and yet He falls on the way to calvary, He cries out in the midst of that anguish, He dies after "only" several hours (some crucified persons suffered for days).  Why?  He was willing to be weak before God, and before us.  He was "humble to the point of death, death on a cross."

This is the essence of sanctity, not to be good enough to do incredible things, but to be humble enough to let God do those incredible things.  JPII, John Vianney, Mother Theresa - these weren't super-humans, they were supernaturalized-humans.  It isn't as if really strong people can live on a potato a day, or shear determination could get somebody through a holy-six-hours, or if you were tough enough then total darkness in the spiritual life doesn't effect you.  No!  It was precisely, and only, in the fact that they relied on God completely, not themselves, that they could do those amazing things, and the same is true of us.  God calls us to give Him everything, and let Him do the rest.  That's true humility, and that is what transforms the world and our own lives.  It was humble, loving, obedience that was asked of Adam and Eve, and they failed, and it was through humble, loving, obedience that Christ came into the world and then saved the world.  We are called to that same perfection, that same awesome vocation, that same fired-up, passionate, sanctity, that same completely self-giving humility, absolute abandonment to love, and filial obedience that we see in the saints (always modeled on Christ Himself) and we, like them, are given the specific graces needed in our lives, our situations, our vocations, to live up to that.  

Don't be discouraged by great examples of holiness: Fall down? Get back up.  Feel weak? Give that to the Lord.  Think you can't change the world?  Take a glance at the coal miner oppressed under the soviet regime (Karol Wojtyla), or the seminarian who couldn't understand theological terminology (John Vianney), or the tiny sister from Albania who is shocked at the poverty of Calcutta (Sr. Theresa).  These individuals didn't expect to change the world, but they were willing to let God do that through them, and so He did.  He wants to do the same through you!

Adoration at St. Florian's