My friends in college often teased me, "Maria, you go too hard, relax. You can't win at everything; it's impossible," to which I'd reply with a chuckle, "That may be so, but I'll never stop trying to beat you. I'll redefine impossible!" I was an athlete and a pretty good one. Hardwired into my very being since I was young was a strong sense of work ethic, determination, and perseverance. When I worked towards goals in my life and achieved them, I felt a sense of accomplishment, confidence, and purpose. I trained myself to believe (almost irrationally) that if I worked hard enough, I could "win" anything. If I failed, I would learn from it, adjust, and strive to win the next time. This mindset of winning carried over into all areas of my life, from the gym to the classroom, to rooting up vices and forming good habits, to deepening my relationship with God.
This isn't to say I didn't ever fail, because I did (and do)... much more than I care to admit. I have weaknesses and struggles, and at times I find myself fighting hard battles and losing. Many times I feel inadequate and incapable of helping others because I feel like such a mess. Can anyone relate? My winning mentality turned into a quest for perfection and into an obsession to reach an unattainable, impossible standard. It wasn't long before that turned into accepting the reality that many things in life were simply impossible to achieve because I was so broken. Because of this realization, I didn't try my best in certain aspects of my life, specifically striving for holiness. However, I made it my mission to find my mission in life. As my best friend and I put it senior year of college, "we're on a mission without a mission" to find our real mission. And so my search began.
I made it my mission to find my mission in life.
I had several great coaches and role-models who inspired me to be the best I could be, not only in sports but in life. However, I found myself wanting more than the advice, guidance, and example they offered me. I started looking for role-models that would really push me. I found quite a few! I found the saints, the superheroes of the church, holy men and women who loved Christ! I mean, wow... the witness of their lives inspired the heck out of me! St. Peter and Paul, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, St. John Paul II, these truly incredible people gave everything for Christ, and I wanted to be like them. However, I was very much discouraged, because the standard they set seemed impossible to achieve. To even think of reaching a status like that was beyond even my once irrational, "I can win-it-all if only I work hard enough," mindset... or so I thought.
As I continued learning, I was not only awed by the amazing witness of the young saints’ lives, but what I discovered blew my mind: they were weak and had struggles just as I did.
Sainthood wasn't ever seriously on my radar because I saw it as this out-there, unattainable standard that wasn't realistic or even possible for “normal” people. Being a saint was a status reserved for an "elite group;” those born with natural talents and gifts. I just couldn't relate and didn't even dare to try. Yet, somehow I knew I was made for that life. I committed myself to learning more about them, because after all, they did get to heaven. As I began diving more in-depth into the lives of as many saints as I could, I looked for nuggets and things about their lives that made them more relatable, or even more “human.” As I continued learning, I was not only awed by the amazing witness of the young saints’ lives, but what I discovered blew my mind: they were weak and had struggles just as I did.
Take St. Therese of Lisieux for example. Although she wanted to become a missionary and win the world for Christ, she joined a convent and accepted her path to holiness that God was calling her to. She struggled with many things, including her temper, but she learned to surrender her struggles and particular weaknesses to Jesus, turning every little thing into an act of love for love of Him. Her devotion and "little way" not only sanctified her life but continues to impact the world to this day! "Our Lord does not so much look at the greatness of our actions, or even at their difficulty, as at the love with which we do them," she said. It shocked me that a saint with her temper and struggles could turn it all into a sacrifice of love for God. Everything she did was ordinary but done with great love for God.
It shocked me that a saint with her temper and struggles could turn it all into a sacrifice of love for God.
Bl. Pier Giorgio is another awesome example of a young person (almost saint) who lived an ordinary life in an extraordinary way for love of God. He was a wild, passionate, caring, fun-loving, and life of the party kind of guy who everyone wanted to be around. Yet, Pier took time away from his social life to cultivate a deep prayer life, generosity to the poor, and a relationship with the Lord. Born to wealth, he would annoy his father by cashing in first-class train tickets for third class, then giving the extra money to the poor. He wanted to become a priest, his parents said no. He wanted to marry a wonderful girl, his parents said no. So basically Pier was like, fine! Then I'm going to be the holiest average person I can be. And that’s what he did. Pier suffered a very painful death and died from polio at age 24. These words of his never fail to light me up: “I urge you with all the strength of my soul to approach the Eucharist table as often as possible. Feed on this bread of the angels from which you will draw the strength to fight inner struggles.” Just like Pier, we can receive the Eucharist as often as possible. As for inner struggles... he had them too, just as I do.
I got excited as I found more to relate to with the lives of these young saints. To mention a few others, we have Saint Peter, a fiery yet rash young man with a deep desire to love Jesus, yet he denied Christ three times. St. Augustine lived an ungodly lifestyle and pursued worldly pleasures before converting and giving his life to God. St. Rita married a murderer and suffered an abusive family. St. Maria Goretti was assaulted before being stabbed to death by her friend because she refused to partake in his sin.
I was awed as I discovered the saints were truly normal people who had real human struggles, the same as you and I.
I was awed as I discovered the saints were truly normal people who had real human struggles, the same as you and I. The step beyond what made them “normal people” is that they chose to live an extraordinary life by loving God radically and giving it all for Him. I began to be filled with a sense of hope and fire to pursue who I was called to be. I’d finally found the role-models and mission I'd been seeking: sainthood and winning for Christ! The witness and example given by these holy men and women was what I needed to "redefine the impossible." I embraced the reality that sainthood isn't some impossible "elite mission" for a chosen few, but that it is our mission too. It is our mission to become the holy men and women God has called us to be in this life. You and I are called to be saints.
Lastly, while the saints are amazing role-models for us, remember that the ultimate role-model is Jesus Christ. He set the ultimate example. He won our salvation and defeated death by giving everything he had. He gave his very life! Thus, we are called to imitate Him and win in this life by giving everything we have. We all have battles, fears, sufferings, and struggles, but God is with us, and the saints as well, inspiring and encouraging us along the way. Christ already won; all we have to do is ask Him humbly and trustingly to fight our battles with us every single day. As Phillipians 4:13 says, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." God knows our sins and struggles, and that is why He came to set us free. He already won the war, but we have to fight our battles. Now, I wake up every day almost eager to fight my battles because I know Christ is with me, and I will win. This is how we love God radically and give each day everything we've got. This is how we become saints!
Through the amazing witness of the saints’ lives and of Jesus Christ, I finally discovered and embraced my mission: win at LIFE. Dear friends, I urge you, surrender your lives to God, recognize and accept the battles you have to fight, commit to fight every day with His help, and love radically. We each have a unique, unrepeatable path to holiness, and once we take that first step to "redefine the impossible,” someday we will find ourselves standing amongst the host of angels and saints in heaven with glorious, eternal crowns of victory. I want to be a saint, and I will be a saint!