DISCERNMENT ARTICLES

Saints, not superheroes

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Many saints struggled with temptations; some even led very sinful lives prior to their conversions. As St. Paul said, “I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Rom 7:15).

What does this tell us about holiness? We become holy not despite our weakness, but because of it. Only when we confess our sinfulness can we truly open ourselves to God’s all-powerful grace.

As a Catholic striving for virtue, especially if you are considering religious life or the priesthood, falling into sin can be very discouraging. Even more discouraging is that we fall into the same sins over and over again. Sometimes that can lead to hopelessness: “I just can’t do this; I give up! I am not holy enough…” And of course, that’s exactly how the Evil One wants us to feel.

At times like these, look to Jesus, whipped and bleeding, carrying His cross, falling into the dirt, yet rising again to struggle on further, only to fall and get up again and again; and all this is done for you.

A saint is not a superhero -he doesn’t have inherent superpowers, but must rely on the grace of God.

Holiness does not mean you will never sin. It means you throw yourself on God’s mercy when you do. It means never giving up on God’s limitless love. It means going to Confession as often as you need to, confident in the cleansing grace of the sacrament.

Sometimes we can go too far in the other direction, believing that if we just try hard enough, we can become holy by our own power. We might even quote the famous passage from Hebrews: “In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood.” Taking this passage out of context, we can think to ourselves, “Well, I just didn’t try hard enough. This all depends on me!” Then we clench our teeth and go off trying to become holy all by ourselves. But this is the heresy of Pelagianism, the idea that perfection is attainable without the assistance of God’s grace.

You can’t do it alone, and it is likely that you will continue to struggle with sin and fall at times; but always remember that in God’s amazing plan, His grace can overpower your sins and help you pick up your cross again! As Catholics, we recognize this great mystery every year at the Easter Vigil, singing, “O happy fault! O necessary sin of Adam that gained for us so great a Redeemer.”

Yes, we need to strive for virtue. No, God’s grace isn’t an excuse to sin. Yes, we need to train our wills to love the good. No, we can’t earn our place in heaven or save ourselves.

The point is that working toward holiness does not mean you will necessarily attain perfection in this life. Rather, salvation comes through God alone, who is ready to forgive you every time you fall. “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness,” St. Paul reminds us. “Therefore I will boast most gladly of my weakness, in order that the power of Christ may dwell within me” (2 Cor. 12:9).