Saints and Striving

It would be unseemly for me to speak about Protestantism in any serious way, but I believe I can say one thing with some assurance; for I think I know why Martin Luther started the Protestant Reformation. It’s simple, really. Martin Luther, I am sure, became convinced that Catholicism doesn’t work, that is to say, that Catholicism did not make it possible for anyone to be saved, to go to heaven. What would draw him to that conclusion? For one thing, in 1510 he had been to Rome and was shocked by the corruption he found in high places – (or so he claimed, years after the fact. Editor). Also, there was his melancholic disposition which made it impossible for him to attain peace of mind from the rigorous asceticism of his monastery. He found relief when he put aside all personal effort in order to receive forgiveness because he was a sinner, quite independently of whether or not he had fulfilled the obligations of his way of life.

When we examine our own failings, we can, perhaps, see some justification for Luther’s position. But then we think of the saints, each in his own way demonstrating that Catholicism has been and continues to be a way of life in which the grace of Jesus can produce holiness. The saints exemplify what Scripture proclaims when it says that by baptism we have been made “partakers of the divine nature”[1] and are thereby called to be “perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect.”[2] Similarly, Saint Paul summons us “to lead a life worthy of the Gospel.”[3] Hence, Saint Irenaeus can say that “the glory of God is man fully alive.”[4] However inadequate I may have been in following Christ, the saints remind me of the powerful and empowering grace of God that can make every Christian into a saint.[5] At Mass we ask that “we may be always free from sin.”[6] That miracle of grace can be ours if we want it vehemently enough.

[1] 2 Pet 1.4.

[2] Matt 5.48.

[3] Phil 1.27.

[4] Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 4.34.7. The full statement reads, “The glory of God is man fully alive, and the life of man is the vision of God.”

[5] Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, ¶1692.

[6] The phrase is found in the embolism that follows the Lord’s Prayer.