success as a saint

Winners, Losers And Success As A Catholic

Oh, dear. It’s political season. It seems every day we are inundated with who has won, who has lost, who has dropped out. As Catholics, do we “keep score” like this? Are there winners and losers in the Faith? How do we mark success?

First, we know that the world’s standards are not God’s standards. By the world’s standards, martyrs are “losers.” Imagine, as St. Maximilian Kolbe did, volunteering to be killed so that another may live. Those “in charge” thought Maximilian Kolbe a fool; we now regard him a saint. St. Paul, in his life as Saul, was quite “successful” in persecuting Christians, but God called him to a new life and he responded. In fact, Paul says, in 1 Corinthians 4:

We are fools on Christ’s account, but you are wise in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are poorly clad and roughly treated, we wander about homeless and we toil, working with our own hands. When ridiculed, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we respond gently. We have become like the world’s rubbish, the scum of all, to this very moment.

I am writing you this not to shame you, but to admonish you as my beloved children. Even if you should have countless guides to Christ, yet you do not have many fathers, for I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.Therefore, I urge you, be imitators of me.

We know quite well how to spot a successful person in the world: the amount of money in a bank account, the lavish home, accolades from others. But there is no scorecard for a follower of Christ, at least not in this fashion. In fact, everything we know about success is turned on its head by St. Paul. We are followers of Christ Jesus, whose earthly life seemingly ended as a criminal, executed by those in power. As Catholics, what is our standard of success?

St. John Paul II, at World Youth Day 2000, said this to the young people gathered in Rome, and by extension, to the whole world:

Be contemplative, love prayer; be coherent with your faith and generous in the service of your brothers and sisters, be active members of the Church and builders of peace. To succeed in this demanding project of life, continue to listen to His Word, draw strength from the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Penance. The Lord wants you to be intrepid apostles of his Gospel and builders of a new humanity.

His successor, Pope Benedict XVI, continued this message in Cologne at World Youth Day 2005:

It is the great multitude of the saints — both known and unknown — in whose lives the Lord has opened up the Gospel before us and turned over the pages; he has done this throughout history and he still does so today. In their lives, as if in a great picture book, the riches of the Gospel are revealed. They are the shining path which God himself has traced throughout history and is still tracing today. …

The saints … are the true reformers. Now I want to express this in an even more radical way: only from the saints, only from God does true revolution come, the definitive way to change the world.

Our standard of success then, is the Gospel. It is to be close to Christ in the sacraments. It is to know and live our faith. Success is to place ourselves at the service of others, to lead a revolution of faith. Success is to be a saint.