Confession: I’m kind of a saint-geek.
Not familiar with the term?
Well, I think I might have invented it, so let me just give a little definition here:
So, I have a (sometimes eccentric) devotion to a particular interest, which happens to be saints.
I was that kid who liked flipping through saint encyclopedias.
What, you didn’t know they had saint encyclopedias?
Dude, you’re missing out.
It’s a good thing to study saints. The Church recognizes certain holy people whose example can help inspire us to live in love with Christ. Research of any depth into the lives of saints shows men and women who are sometimes dramatically different from one another in every way except one: a passionate love for God. Each has, if you’ll pardon a pretty sorry simile, a very unique flavor, born of the many thousands of unique personalities and backgrounds from whence they came. Their stories reflect countless starting points converging on the same “narrow way”, and ending at the same destination: an eternity face-to-face with their beloved Creator.
Dramatically different, highly unique people make for fascinating stories.
I have always liked those hyper-dramatic stories, like the one St. Margaret who ran off with her lover, had an illegitimate child, saw her lover murdered, and after a profound conversion spent life as a penitent. Her picture in the children’s illustrated saint book was pretty rad. Definitely caught your eye while you were flipping through.
Or a perennial favorite of mine, Blessed Miguel Pro: the guitar-playing jokester extraordinaire, cartoonist, master of disguise. Finally martyred, the story of his death raises goosebumps at every re-telling.
Eccentric devotees, such as myself, sometimes have the problem of tunnel-vision. I get so awed by their fascinating stories that I lose sight of the purposes God has for me.
Let me explain it like this: do you know that “Potter and the Clay” Bible story?
Admittedly, it’s possible you don’t. If not for my long-suffering Mom, I wouldn’t either. So, for those of you who were not allowed to endlessly replay Donut Man tapes in your childhood, a quick detour to check out Jeremiah 18:1-6.
I don’t know about you, but when I talk, I find it difficult to pay attention to anyone else at the same time. I had a sort of mental picture today, of being that lump of clay that kept turning out badly. The reason being that I wouldn’t shut up.
Seriously. Oftentimes in my prayer life I sound like this: “Oh, Lord – look at this saint. Wow, that one is really something. Hey, You did that once. How about another go? I think we should try a little St. Gianna today, with perhaps a few turns of the wheel in a Blessed Chiara-like direction.”
It would be like a lump of clay on a wheel looking around the Potter’s shed as the wheel turns. The response to so many marvelous works should be trust in the Potter’s skill.
My response too often is more like a lump of clay begging: “Oh! What a lovely vase! You should make me into a vase like that one. But wait, no, not a vase – that bowl is very useful. Perhaps a bowl, make me a bowl. No, no! That jar is very sturdy, I should be sturdy, too. Make me a jar!”
What nonsense! The Potter already has the vase, the bowl, the jar – those lumps of clay were already shaped by His hands to match the image He had planned in His Heart. Sometimes very slowly and sometimes quickly, they learned to be unique vessels by their cooperation with His purpose. They chose to respond with an unlimited trust in His mysterious designs for their lives, and with a boundless love to the One who loved them into existence.
When I fail to focus on Him, I become an opinionated lump of clay. Too preoccupied with my own muddled thoughts, I’m incapable of becoming “a vessel of whatever sort He pleased.” I turn out badly when I refuse to rest beneath His hands, when I resist allowing Him to shape me according to the purposes of His Heart.
We serve an endlessly creative God. His ability to shape beauty out of clay does not run out, nor does His patience with sincere-but-opinionated lumps like myself, who sometimes have to learn the hard way.
C.S. Lewis makes the point with these words:
“How monotonously alike all the great tyrants and conquerors have been: how gloriously different are the saints. But there must be a real giving up of the self. You must throw it away ‘blindly’ so to speak. Christ will indeed give you a real personality: but you must not go to Him for the sake of that. As long as your own personality is what you are bothering about you are not going to Him at all. The very first step is to try to forget about the self altogether. Your real, new self (which is Christ’s and also yours, and yours just because it is His) will not come as long as you are looking for it. It will come when you are looking for Him.”