The Saints were people who used their freedom to choose a path for themselves that the secular world and even the Church of their time found incomprehensible. These movers and shakers of the spiritual life were so willfully determined on the pursuit of holiness that they disturbed the people with whom they came into contact. Their success in living heroic virtue can be credited to God’s grace guaranteeing their freedom to use their free will and reason to decide what they wanted. In each case, their decisions led to lives of heroic virtue worthy of emulation.
I read the life of St. Teresa of Avila and see a woman to whom I can relate on a very deep level. She was intelligent, educated and for most of her life did as she pleased. Even her entry into the monastery of the Incarnation was her own decision, her own choice, what she wanted. Without giving up her free will she responded to God’s grace in her life as she made her choices about who she wanted to be, how she wanted to live, what made sense to her to embrace as her own. She chose Christ, she chose the Carmel, she chose to study her faith, to pray for hours, and to seek out holy priests as her confessors so she could grow more holy. She chose her life and her choices inspired an entire new branch to her order.
She was by no means the only example of Willful Holiness. A popular Saint, generally misrepresented as a softhearted animal lover, was a wealthy man’s son whose goal was glory in the crusades. He was sidetracked when he discovered that the battle to become holy was the greater challenge. In his own lifetime his decision to live a life of poverty disturbed his family and the Church. St. Francis’ way was a crusade for holiness. His path rocked his world and led him to found an order that included men whose tough masculinity was evidenced by their walking from the eastern shores of Mexico to Mexico City –bare footed– helping to convert Mexico.
St. Catharine of Alexandria determined to follow Christ with the greatest perfection after studying philosophy. She was famous for the quality of her intellect. She did not choose her Catholic heroism blindly but as a scholar and a woman of independence in an era when that was rare. Many urged her to marry but she chose differently. She could have married, she had no limit of suitors of excellent character and wealth, but she saw that none would satisfy her desire to do “it my way” except to espouse herself to Christ.
St. Josemaria Escriva spoke of holy audacity as that boldness to live the Catholic Faith with determination and boldness even in the face of a culture that was deeply and violently opposed to Catholicism. He could have chosen a path to a successful career. Many of those whose chosen way turns out to be in the way of Opus Dei are successful, educated and determined to be able to live a life pleasing to God. They too will sing, “I did it my way” and if they succeed in their goal of holiness in the ordinary secular world, that way will follow the way of Christ’s will.
I hope to emulate their examples in my own life.
Today’s Saint: St. John Bosco started with catechism classes on the streets of his city for the kids who had nothing, and eventually built schools to help the boys in particular grow up to be productive men rather than criminals.