Ordinary Lives Extraordinary Mission (Paperback)
[Jesus:] “In the evening you say, ‘Tomorrow will be fair, for the sky is red’; and, in the morning, ‘Today will be stormy, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to judge the appearance of the sky, but you cannot judge the signs of the time.” (Matthew 16:2–3)
It has become rather obvious that something is wrong. The United States of America and the Catholic Church are in crisis. The word crisis pops up everywhere: economic crisis; health care crisis; vocations crisis; sex abuse crisis . . . the list goes on and on. However, these crises are not the root of the problem. The real problem is an identity crisis: As a nation and as a Church, we’ve forgotten our story and forgotten our mission. Central to knowing that you are in a war is knowing what you are fighting for and what you are defending. If you don’t have a mission or a goal, then you won’t see anything as a threat.
A DIVIDED CHURCH
As Catholics, we can’t help but notice all the recent news articles and bad press about our Church. It is disheartening to read about sex abuse scandals, the decrease in vocations, empty pews, and young people walking away from the faith because they don’t feel welcome. It is discouraging to hear that many Christians don’t even consider Catholics to be Christians.
In college, I dated a wonderful young lady for several months. However, after learning I was Catholic, she seemed genuinely concerned and began to question my faith. Our relationship eventually ended because I am Catholic. Unfortunately, her perception of the Catholic Church was like that of countless other Christians. She saw Catholics as people who go through the motions, who don’t have any real relationship with Jesus, who worship saints and Mary, who give too much power to Church authority, who abuse children, who don’t welcome others at church, who drink way too much, and who give priests the power to forgive sins so people can sin as much as they want and then go to confession to wipe the slate clean. To her, Catholics focus on doing meaningless things to save themselves and don’t believe they can be saved by faith alone. I must admit, her false perception was not all her fault. As Catholics we sometimes earn that reputation.
I don’t think I’ve ever met a Christian who disagreed with Catholic teaching; I’ve only met Christians who have vastly misunderstood it. Their objections seem to be not with the supposed faults of the Church, but with the actual sins of her people. They misunderstand the faith because most Catholics neither live their faith nor, for that matter, even understand it themselves. In college, I remember meeting Christians of other denominations who seemed enthusiastic about God, but I felt hesitant mentioning I was Catholic. Subconsciously, I suppose, I feared what they would think of me, even though I personally love everything about my Catholic faith. I didn’t like to admit to that fear, but it was there.
With more than one billion Catholics on the planet, many people are born into Catholic families.2 They are Catholic by name and usually baptized Catholic as infants, but for many of them that’s as far as they get. Most Catholics disagree with at least one aspect of their Church. They may identify themselves as Catholic and occasionally go through the rituals of Mass, but have little knowledge of the teachings of their faith. I must admit, I didn’t know my faith well enough to allay that young lady’s concerns. From what she perceived, Catholics don’t belong in the category of “saved” Christians. However, I didn’t have the right answers for her because I knew what I did as a Catholic, but I didn’t know why. After our relationship ended, I went through a rough spiritual period with a lot of questions for God. I had nothing to do except search for truth. I believe God placed her in my life for a reason: to challenge me. She inadvertently led me to finding truth and, ironically, led me toward my wife, who has been instrumental in strengthening my own Catholic faith.
Up to that point, I had been a “good” Catholic, only because I was a good rule follower. But suddenly I didn’t want to merely go through the motions anymore—I wanted to know why. I wanted my life to be an action, not a reaction. I also knew that it would do me no good to live by actions if those actions were not led by a guiding truth. This is dangerous territory, because many people stop following rules to be in control of their own lives and are led astray without the truth. My struggle continued through the summer after my first year in college, which was long and depressing. I felt like I didn’t belong anywhere and the more I tried to do God’s will, the more I was being punished. I felt alone and wanted answers.
My search for answers led me to an author by the name of Scott Hahn. A family member gave me a series of tapes in which Hahn describes how he went from being an anti-Catholic Protestant minister to one of the most sought-after Catholic scholars and writers. His story brought me comfort that I was on the right path, and the more answers I sought, the more I found. And ultimately, the more answers I found, the more I fell in love with my Church and her beautiful history.
No matter what your faith is, it’s my hope that this book will help you better understand the Catholic faith. To me, the similarities between Catholics and Protestants far outweigh our differences, although the differences are significant. Several Protestant friends have played a critical role in bringing me closer to God, and their genuine love of God inspires me. It is that genuine love of God and welcoming spirit I wish to bring to my Catholic friends and family. Sadly, it’s the lack of genuineness and inability to engage others that have driven many people away from Catholicism. As Christians, we are all in this together, and our mission is the same: We all want to become who God wants us to become by embracing that relationship with our Savior and inviting countless others to do the same.
As Catholics, it is easy to get pulled into the masses of people going through the motions, especially if we are cradle Catholics (Catholic from birth). The Catholic faith is huge, and sometimes we let the vastness overwhelm us into believing that the truths of our faith are unattainable and unlivable. We need to understand that everything in the faith is there for a reason. As a Catholic priest once told me, the Catholic faith does not need anything added or taken away from it. It is a like a treasure chest full of truth, established and given to us by Jesus Christ. The challenge is to unpack that truth and apply it to our own lives. This book is not about revealing new truths. Instead, it is a game plan for living the truth of the Catholic faith in the modern world in the midst of our divided Church. Authentic lives will bring unity.
Despite what the American culture tells us, there is real truth, and that truth is possible to live out in today’s world. In fact, the war we are fighting is precisely a battle between the real self and the false self. It is only when we start living with the arrogance that we can decide for ourselves what is right and wrong that we get into trouble. When man tries to make himself a god, he is waging war on the one true God. Fortunately for us, God made himself man to pay the price for our disobedience. We must choose to follow Christ’s example and be obedient to the Father, trusting that he loves us.
A TROUBLED NATION
At this time in the United States of America, we can all agree that something is wrong; we just can’t seem to agree on what it is. Finding the root of the problem and therefore finding the solution is a challenge. We know the economy took a severe dive, we know people have lost their jobs because of declining business, we know families continue to fall apart, and we know people have lost their homes to foreclosure. We have applied a Band-Aid to the problems for a quick fix, throwing money around where we feel it is needed. Quick fixes may cover up the problems for a while, but they will only return in larger form if we do not find the root of the problems and eradicate them. We treat the recent symptoms, but don’t seem to realize the problems didn’t start in the past couple of years.
Symptoms of a bad economy showed up recently, but the root of the problem has been there a long time. Our culture seems to promote more greed and self-centered need. We have become accustomed to getting what we want and more comfortable buying things we can’t afford. We have confused needs with wants. We have bought into the cultural lie that says life is about what we do and what we have, so we have gone out to get what we want and done what we wanted to do without considering the consequences.
The U.S. health care system has severe problems, as well. We are spending more and more money but have less and less wellness. Some would argue we have continued to add years to our lives because of advances in technology, medication, and treatments. While we may have added years to life, we haven’t necessarily added life to those years. The diseases keep coming, so we keep treating symptoms. Our health care system can’t be fixed until we focus on treating the root of the problem, not just the symptoms. For example, depression in our young people has risen to epidemic levels over the past forty years. Sometimes depression is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain that may require medication. However, it is not a virus causing this massive outbreak of depression in our country, but an underlying problem. A deeper problem is causing children to walk into classrooms and shoot their teachers, their classmates, and themselves. Ultimately, the crises we are experiencing are not bodily diseases, plummeting stocks, high taxes, or lack of jobs. No, these are just symptoms. The real crisis is an identity crisis.
THE PROBLEM AND SOLUTION WITHIN
The root of the problems for our country and for our Church is not out there, but lies within. We are at war. The war is internal and takes place inside the human heart—it is you against you.
Our nation is struggling because we are losing this war. Our Church is struggling because we are losing this war. Our families are struggling because we are losing this war. We can’t find solutions by changing presidents and leaders, writing new laws, dumping money into the economy, bailing out businesses, changing medical insurance, or forcing people to follow government regulations. The attitudes of well-meaning people in our nation and Church seem to be attitudes of defeat. People make poor choices, and we have made poor choices ourselves. But instead of finding ways to help people choose to do good, we look for ways to justify our sins and the sins of others. We look for coping mechanisms for our sins. We try to justify our faults as if doing the right thing is simply not possible or “natural.”
Communism and socialism are founded on the principle that people cannot choose for themselves. These political systems are run by dictators who rule with heavy hands. In America, we don’t need a dictator to come and enslave us, because we have enslaved ourselves. The United States is the land of the free and the home of the brave, but if we don’t start making better choices, we will soon be the land of the slaves and the home of the cowards.
GOD IS KING
Our nation and Church are founded on the same guiding principle that has made them strong for so many years: People are free to choose. And yet, we are only truly free inasmuch as we choose to do good. Our Church and nation have no human king. God is our king and we are “one nation under God.” Freedom comes from God, but we are free only when we choose to follow God’s plan, and God will never force us to do good. He may be king, but he is not a dictator. We have free will, so we choose our freedom, and we choose our slavery. As long as we continue to choose pride, envy, greed, anger, sloth, gluttony, and lust, we will be slaves.
Jesus tells us the war is within in the Gospel of Mark when he says:
“Do you not realize that everything that goes into a person from outside cannot defile, since it enters not the heart but the stomach and passes out into the latrine? (Thus he declared all foods clean.) But what comes out of a person, that is what defiles. From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile.” (Mark 7:18–23)
The war we fight takes place inside the human heart, and it is a battle of wills. No force on earth, and none in hell, can take our will from us. Our will is ours. We choose our happiness, and we choose our misery. Our Church and nation are being crippled by the same social diseases. If we are to have any hope of reviving them, we must focus on winning the war inside our hearts—the war between good and evil—and time is scarce.
To see and understand the war going on around and inside us, it is vitally important that we understand our mission. The problem is that we have removed this mission from the culture. Remember, the crisis is an identity crisis, a crisis of saints. We have stopped telling young people to strive for perfection, to strive to be saints, because we don’t want them to feel guilty about the times they fall short. However, the only way to say no to the cultural lies is to have a deeper yes. If you don’t have something to fight for, then you won’t see the cultural diseases as a threat. Do you know what you want out of life? Do you know what your goal is? Do you have a mission? What is your mission? These are all important questions you must answer.
What do you want for your life? I have personally reflected on this question extensively. After all, if you don’t know where you’re going, you’re lost. To define clearly what it is that I want and don’t want, I began to write down these things and memorize them. By clearly defining what I want, I can also clearly see what is a threat to my mission and rid my life of those things.
This is my mission:
I want my children’s future to be better than their past. I don’t want my children to worship pleasure; I want them to have pleasure in worship. I want to arm my children with the sword of truth so they have a fighting chance against an enemy that never sleeps. I want to be a better father and husband.
I don’t want to go through the motions anymore. I want to help awaken the sleeping giant we call the Catholic Church. I don’t want to ask “What’s in it for me?” or “What’s the least I can do?”
I want to master the virtues of justice, courage, wisdom, temperance, faith, hope, and love. I want to learn to love as God loves. I want Jesus to be proof that I can be a saint, and not to use him as permission to be a sinner. I want to learn to suffer well and carry the crosses of this life. I don’t want to make excuses anymore. I don’t want to say I’m too old, or too young, or don’t have enough time, talent, or treasure—that is an insult to the one who gave me my time, talent, and treasure.
I want to be free, in the truest sense of the word. I don’t want to be a slave to food, or drink, or any other possession of this world. I don’t want my favorite sports team to determine what kind of mood I’m in anymore. I want to hear God’s voice. I want to befriend silence. I want my life to be an action, not a reaction. I want to make a difference. I want my life to affect choices.
I want to fight the good fight. I want to finish the race with nothing left to give, because I do not want to face death and discover I have not lived. I want to see my father again and shake his hand, and know that he is proud of the man that I became. I want to be a saint with all my heart and inspire millions of others to do the same.
These are my dreams, but they are also my dreams for you. The details of our individual missions may vary, but the end goal is the same, to become the saints God created us to be. We must focus on this mission, understanding that anything not helping us accomplish it is, at the very best, a waste of time. Saint Paul says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8)
Imagine how life would change if everything you did and said, everything you watched and listened to, everyone you were around, everywhere you went, everything you had and bought, everything you ate and drank, all was helping you become the saint that God created you to be. Now imagine the influence you would have on the people around you if all of this were true.
Most of us live divided lives. We are different people depending on the setting and who is around. If your friends and pastor were to have a conversation about you, would they think they were talking about the same person? Are you a different person during the week than on the weekends? Do you come home from work feeling as though you’ve been pretending to be somebody else all day to please customers or your employer? It is amazing how much other people influence our actions—and how much we influence theirs.
My mother comes from a strong Catholic family; she is one of eleven children. I am one of thirty grandchildren on my mother’s side. Our family gatherings have always been quite large. My aunts, uncles, and cousins are wonderful people, and I’m impressed with what my mother and all ten of her siblings have accomplished in life, and the strong families they have raised. Yet even though I come from a large family, I’ve never felt comfortable at large family or social gatherings because of my shy, introverted personality. After graduating from high school, college, and optometry school, I gradually began to feel more confident around people. When my wife and I moved to a small town in northwest Ohio, where we barely knew anyone, it was like having a brand-new start in life. Nobody knew who I was, so nobody had any programmed expectations of me.
I began to take on several leadership roles in my church and as a doctor. I started coaching basketball, teaching class, giving talks at church functions, and speaking to nurses and staff at nursing homes where I see patients—all things my friends and family would never have expected because of my personality. (One of my aunts questioned my career choice because it involved talking to people.) I am still introverted and struggle at times with these leadership roles, but slowly I have become more comfortable in them. However, whenever I visit childhood friends and family, I find myself slipping back into the role of shy, unconfident kid. Growing up, I was always the younger cousin, little brother, and shy kid who didn’t talk. During these homecomings I feel and act differently than I do as a father, husband, doctor, teacher, and coach in my current hometown.
We live divided lives because we react to different circumstances and situations. Wanting to be loved and accepted by others, we often react in ways we feel people want or expect us to. That often is why change is difficult. If a certain person has a reputation of being the life of the party, his friends are going to start expecting this from him. This reputation may cause this person to develop bad habits, such as drinking too much and smoking. Perhaps he realizes his habits are bad and would like to quit, but he has built his identity with friends around these habits. I have witnessed many people make great strides in becoming healthier and breaking free from bad habits; put them around the wrong people, though, and their progress is halted. This is why it is so important to know our goals and missions in life, and to make a list of things we do and do not want out of life. A clearly defined mission and clearly defined goals turn our lives from reactions into actions.
To become the saints we were created to be, we may need to avoid certain people at certain times. Spending time around others striving to become saints, who encourage us to have and do the things that will help us become saints, makes our goals much more attainable. This may be the first step—to retreat from the world for periods of time so we are not tempted to fall for the lies and deceit. Eventually we need to reach the point where we can focus solely on our missions no matter what the situation or circumstance. This deeper yes helps us say no to the lies and deceit, but it also gives us courage to help others on their journeys.
THEY WILL FOLLOW YOU
Discovering our mission, we realize we are not called to abandon the world and run from evil. Instead, the mission challenges us to live right in the middle of the world. However, by living in the middle of the world, we’re tempted to focus on changing others and their faults to make us feel better about our own lives. We are tempted to judge others, to read stories in the Bible and wonder, “How can those people do such horrible things?” Those stories teach us about ourselves; every character acts as a mirror. Only God can read the hearts of individuals. We can’t claim to know how others are struggling, or where each is on the journey. Are you so focused on others’ faults that you can’t see your own? If you readily see faults in others, I encourage searching within yourself—more often than not, you’ll discover the same faults.
The reality is, to change others, we must change ourselves. Sometimes we must call out our loved ones and in charity explain how their actions are self-destructive. However, we can only do that when we are willing to change ourselves. Perhaps we can share our own struggles to help them see we all have weaknesses and together can overcome them. They may be willing to listen, or not. Ultimately, when we focus on changing ourselves for the better, it automatically challenges others to change as well. This is a difficult challenge, and Chapter 3 describes ways to free ourselves. That step cannot be accomplished until we accept that we are all prisoners to some degree. This book is about five steps to help you become a saint. It is not a book about five steps to help you become a nice person, or a good person. This challenge is a call to become something more, and it will be met with great resistance. It is a call to seek and find the narrow way.
Pride tells us nothing controls us, that we are free. We pretend vices and addictions don’t hurt anything. We become defensive if somebody tries to imply that the things we love in this world prevent us from becoming saints and hold us captive. I encourage you to seek out your weaknesses, no matter how small the world perceives them, and crucify them. By doing so, you’ll challenge people around you to do the same. Your friends and family may not like this challenge, but when you begin to become who you are meant to be, they will see a peace in your eyes for which they will long. True holiness is attractive. We must come to discover that a loving spouse, good parent, and true friend is one that helps us become a saint. These people are our greatest allies. If we want to surround ourselves with people who help us become saints, we must be a person who helps others become saints.
As parents, we spend much time worrying about how to lead our children down the right path. The best thing each of us can do for our children and family is to become a saint. The best thing each of us can do for our friends, coworkers, city, school, nation, Church, and the world is to become a saint. We reveal Christ to the world through ourselves. No, scratch that. Christ reveals himself to the world through us, if we allow him. We reveal Christ not only by things we do and say, but by who we become. Unfortunately, very few people are striving toward becoming who they were created to be.
EXCUSES, EXCUSES, EXCUSES
Many excuses can justify our failures. One is that nobody is perfect, which is true. This is ingrained in our minds from youth, and so we exploit and stretch the excuse for all we can. How many times have you heard the phrase “You can never be perfect”? That is a lie—a lie with good intentions, but still a lie. We focus on ways we are not perfect and believe the lie because we also falsely believe that life is about what you do and what you have. If that is true, then we can never be perfect. For example, making a free throw in basketball is not too difficult. However, on any given day, if I were to shoot a hundred free throws, chances are I might miss one (or maybe a few more than that). I am human and there are times when I lose my concentration and get tired. Does that mean I’m not perfect? It does if we’re talking about what we do and what we have. Fortunately, life truly is not about what we do and what we have. Life is about who we become. Each of us was created for a specific purpose, and God has given us the potential to fulfill that purpose. Through Christ’s death and resurrection, every person has the power to choose to become who he or she was created to be. I am a sinner, and I am not perfect. But I am perfectible.
CALLED TO PERFECTION
Christ didn’t die on the cross just so our sins would be forgiven or to give us coping mechanisms for our sins. He came to give us the power to overcome sin, to free us from sin, and he is our model. John Paul II once said, “It is in the Gospel that the aspiration to perfection, to ‘something more,’ finds its explicit point of reference.”3 Christ calls us to something more: “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48) He gives us the power to choose to be perfectly who we were created to be. Sin, by definition, is a conscious turning away from God. We can’t sin accidentally—it is a choice. In any given moment, I can choose to turn away from God or I can choose to do the right thing. In choosing to do the right thing, I’m taking a step toward becoming perfectly who I was created to be.
We have overwhelmingly embraced the mantra “nobody’s perfect” because it hides our fear. Americans, and many Christians, maybe now more than ever, live in fear. It’s not a fear of external restraints that takes away our freedom. It is a fear of internal restraints that enslaves us.
I have to admit that fear was a dominant emotion for the first thirty years of my life. What was I so afraid of? I always thought I had a confidence problem. I was afraid of any trial or test, and even though everyone kept telling me, “You can do it,” I thought the fear of failure was holding me back. Eventually I came to discover that my fear was not of failure, but of success. I didn’t want to believe I “could do it” because that would hold me accountable. It is much easier to live life believing we are not capable of living the truth. However, to be credible witnesses to the power of the cross, we must confidently trust that God will make himself manifest through our lives. As Saint Paul says, “I have the strength for everything, through him who empowers me.” (Philippians 4:13)
For too long I have hidden behind the excuses of “I’m not perfect” and “This is just who I am; stop trying to change me.” I am probably not the only one who struggles with these thoughts. But this is not who we are. We are children of God, sons and daughters of the most high, heirs to the Kingdom of Heaven, and we were born to be saints! As Christians, we often speak of glorifying God. However, we don’t seem to realize the glory of God is the perfection of creation. We glorify him by becoming saints and inspiring others to do the same. If we continue to identify ourselves with our sins and refuse to believe we can change, then we strip the cross of its power.
Yes, we have the power to become saints—and the power to help others become saints. That is our goal, a mission that has been watered down by well-meaning people who thought the goal was too far-fetched and didn’t want to risk a life of failure reaching for what they perceived was an impossible dream. However, eliminating the mission does not free us from burdens; it enslaves us in lives of quiet desperation, in which we are always searching for meaning but never finding it. It is time we rediscover our mission, and take responsibility for the power we are given. We are afraid of that power because it leaves no room for excuses. It slaps us with the cold reality that we have chosen who we’ve become as a nation, as a Church, and as people.
The good news is we have the power to choose who we become from here on out. We can change, and we must. Change is about winning the war inside our hearts. Becoming a saint is truly possible. There are many definitions, but simply put, a saint is somebody who is perfectly who he or she was created to be, somebody who is in heaven.
I assume everyone reading this book wants to go to heaven, but think of this: God gave us free will because he wants us to experience his love. He wants us to love as he loves, and one quality of God’s love is that it must be free. This is why he will never force us to do anything. For love to be love it must be free, so God will never take away our free will. All of us, at some time, use that free will to choose sin. But there is no sin in heaven. Therefore, if there is no sin in heaven, and God never takes away our free will, then somewhere along the line we must become perfectly who we were created to be; we must choose to be saints. This doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a lifetime to make a saint.
Sometimes a lifetime is not long enough to make us saints. The Catholic Church teaches that if we don’t become fully who we were created to be in this life, then we will need a final purification before we enter eternal glory. We call that final purification purgatory, which is a subject of disagreement between Catholics and Protestants. C. S. Lewis, the great Christian writer, once said:
Of course I pray for the dead. The action is so spontaneous, so all but inevitable, that only the most compulsive theological case against it would deter me. And I hardly know how the rest of my prayers would survive if those for the dead were forbidden. At our age, the majority of those we love best are dead. What sort of intercourse with God could I have if what I love best were unmentionable to him? I believe in Purgatory.
Mind you, the Reformers had good reasons for throwing doubt on the “Romish doctrine concerning Purgatory” as that Romish doctrine had then become. . . .
The right view returns magnificently in Newman’s dream. There, if I remember it rightly, the saved soul, at the very foot of the throne, begs to be taken away and cleansed. It cannot bear for a moment longer “With its darkness to affront that light.” Religion has claimed Purgatory.
Our souls demand Purgatory, don’t they? Would it not break the heart if God said to us, “It is true, my son, that your breath smells and your rags drip with mud and slime, but we are charitable here and no one will upbraid you with these things, nor draw away from you. Enter into the joy”? Should we not reply, “With submission, sir, and if there is no objection, I’d rather be cleaned first.” “It may hurt, you know”—“Even so, sir.”
I assume that the process of purification will normally involve suffering. Partly from tradition; partly because most real good that has been done me in this life has involved it. But I don’t think the suffering is the purpose of the purgation. I can well believe that people neither much worse nor much better than I will suffer less than I or more. . . . The treatment given will be the one required, whether it hurts little or much.
My favorite image on this matter comes from the dentist’s chair. I hope that when the tooth of life is drawn and I am “coming round,” a voice will say, “Rinse your mouth out with this.” This will be Purgatory. The rinsing may take longer than I can now imagine. The taste of this may be more fiery and astringent than my present sensibility could endure. But . . . it will [not] be disgusting and unhallowed.
I love Lewis’s point that we “demand purgatory.” I once heard a theologian say we each choose our own sentence in purgatory when we see our own soul as it is and how it is capable of being. Purgatory is a cleansing, a final preparation for heaven. Whether we need a purgatory or not, the point is that we can become saints.
A saint is not necessarily somebody who skips purgatory. Saints, canonized and uncanonized, are the souls in heaven, and they come from every culture and background. The Catholic Church calls them the Church Triumphant. They are a diverse group of people with often very different paths, but the path to sainthood is well trodden. Many ordinary men and women have lived extraordinary lives. The mission seems far-fetched and difficult, which is perhaps why many people avoid the journey, or why those well-meaning people stopped encouraging others to be saints. We want instant results, and to tell somebody who has never run a race to go run a marathon tomorrow morning would certainly set them up for failure.
All great things are accomplished little by little. This mission of sainthood is accomplished one habit at a time. It takes perseverance, forgiveness, and courage to keep moving forward on the journey from where we are today, point A, to becoming the saint we were created to be, point B. The important thing is not to land on point B tomorrow, but to be closer to point B tomorrow than you are today. To run a marathon, you must train, and with training, you improve, little by little. With persistence, and our eyes fixed on our goal, we will eventually do what we never dreamed we could and, more important, become the person we never knew we could become—a saint. This is our goal, our mission, our deeper “yes” that gives us the motivation to say no to the many cultural influences, diseases, and lies that threaten this mission.
MISSION 1: Applying the First Step to Winning the War Within CONSTANT REMINDERS
It is not that difficult to realize we have a war waging within. It is not even too difficult to become inspired or to discover our mission. A song, movie, speech, or experience can spark a fire inside. The difficulty is in staying inspired to live the mission; to turn the spark into a raging fire that can’t be extinguished. The real world is full of distractions, but it is precisely in the midst of distractions and the real world that we are called to live the mission. To do so, we need reminders to hold us accountable for what we are trying to accomplish. This mission must be on our minds every waking hour of every day.
A great piece of wisdom from the author Matthew Kelly is to create and post constant reminders of the goal. I taped the phrase “Become a Saint” to my alarm clock so it is the first thing I see when I wake up in the morning. Then I taped it to my bathroom mirror, the dashboard of my car, and my computer. I make it the screensaver on the computers I work on all day. I wear a wristband with these words so I see it every time I look at my watch. Why? I want to be reminded of my goal constantly. I want it staring me in the face when I make decisions throughout the day. Many spiritual demons have a mission to prevent you, and as many souls as possible, from reaching your goals. Saving souls is worth the fight.
Your challenge to live out Step 1 of winning the war within is to post constant reminders to hold yourself accountable for living the mission. Put the phrase “Become a Saint” on your television, radio, refrigerator, computer, and everywhere you are fighting the war, so you can constantly ask yourself, “Is what I am about to do helping me accomplish my mission?” You will be amazed how powerful this exercise is. Not only will it help you keep your focus on your mission; it will spark the interest of others who see it, and you will have the opportunity to explain it to them. With this great mission to become a saint clearly in mind, you will be able to open your heart and see the battle raging inside.