Why Not Be a Saint?

February 5, 2014

Rooster with pearls by unknown Flemish goldsmith, c.1570s

Rooster with pearls by unknown Flemish goldsmith, c.1570s

Sermon written (but, alas, never preached owing to a winter storm) for Mass at Christendom College on 
the Feast of St. Agnes, January 21st, 2014 by the Rt. Rev. Philip Anderson, Abbot of Our Lady of Clear Creek Abbey. In the hope that these words will reach the young adults who, during the March for Life days, missed hearing a holy challenge by the act of God, I offer Abbot Anderson’s sermon so that many more than the original intended audience may find it.

The Kingdom of Heaven is like treasure hidden in a field . . . It is like a merchant looking for fine pearls (Mt. 13: 44-46).

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Dear students of this beautiful college having a most beautiful name,

This image of the precious pearl is quite remarkable.  The ancient Greek philosopher Parmenides described the ultimate reality, being, as something “complete on every side, like the mass of a rounded sphere, equally poised from the center in every direction”.  This sounds like a metaphysical pearl.  But the reality indicated by Our Lord in the parable we have heard in the Gospel is beyond the ken of philosophy.  It has to do with a spiritual state of the human person, in which all the contradictions, misunderstandings, sins, lies, and multitudinous other ‘rough’ edges of life are molded at last into the supernatural, white harmony that is the life of Paradise in the beatific vision of the elect.

But, of course, we have to seek the precious pearl already in this life here below, even before we touch the shores of Heaven some day, by the grace of God.  You, as students, many of whom, if not all, are Catholic Christians, must know that your studies are not an end in themselves but a means of attaining to that perfection Our Lord spoke of: “Be ye therefore perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt. 5:48). The precious pearl you thus seek represents a certain moral and spiritual completeness that is an outstanding fulfillment of human life.  “Perfectus” in Latin is defined by the scholastic philosophers as cui nihil deest – that to which nothing is lacking.

One way of accurately describing this pearl, this perfection of human life, which lacks nothing, would be to call it a certain fullness of the theological virtue of charity, that is to say of the love of God and of our fellow human beings because of the love of God. Charity is the queen of the virtues and all the others go wherever she goes. 

St. Agnes, St. Bartholomew and St. Cecelia with an unknown Dominican, 1485-1510, artist unknown, color on wood, Alte Pinakothek, Munich

St. Agnes, St. Bartholomew and St. Cecelia with an unknown Dominican, 1485-1510, artist unknown, color on wood, Alte Pinakothek, Munich

For St. Agnes, whose feast we celebrate on this day, the precious pearl was about holding on to her charity and her faith, despite the gruesome reality of bloody martyrdom to which she was subjected.  She is one of the great witnesses of the Faith, who found very quickly in her life the ineffable pearl, becoming herself a beautiful pearl in the sight of God.

In the monastic tradition there is a very terse description of perfection, an adage, which goes back to the earliest centuries of the Christian faith: “Prefer nothing to the love of Christ.” That sums it up.  Indeed, in preferring nothing to the love of Christ, we love God, since Christ is God, a divine Person.  This perfect preference also recognizes the great mysteries of the Incarnation and of the Redemption, inseparable from the second Person of the Trinity (and where there is one Person, the other Two are always there as well).  This love of Christ includes our neighbor, as our neighbor is either already a member of the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church in its broadest sense, or is ordered to that Body, destined, we hope, to have a place in it.

And so you must – especially those of you who are students, who hold in a way the future of the Church in your hands – you must aim at something great, high, noble and beautiful in this life, while always recognizing that any greatness that might fill our lives comes from God alone.  You must choose something like a pearl, something like a star, something worth pursuing to the end.  Why not?  You have but one life: why not live it to the utmost, why not push to the outer reaches of what is most excellent in human life?  

Why not be a saint?

Saint Agnes, Virgin and Martyr, pray for us.  Amen.

Dear Readers, if you know Catholic college students, will you please send them a link to this post? Thank you and God bless you.

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V. Praised be Jesus Christ!

R. Now and forever!

(Click on the link above to read why I end my posts this way.)

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Wednesday, February 5th, 2014 Catholic Church, spirituality

2 Comments to Why Not Be a Saint?

  1. I have always loved this – “Prefer nothing to the love of Christ.” I need to put it on a bookmark so I see it every day.

  2. Colleen on February 13th, 2014
  3. Me, too. It seems the more we think of Jesus and look for the actions of God in our lives, the easier it is to prefer nothing to the love of Christ.

  4. barb on February 13th, 2014

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