The only mistake in life is not to become a Saint.
When I first heard the above quote (perhaps a FIT reader will recall who said it) as a student at the University of Notre Dame, it really made me think. It was at a time when, after falling away from my child-like enthusiasm for Catholicism, I was coming back to the Faith but struggling to accept it as a man. But just as those too-perfect pictures of the Saints had hooked me as a youth, the realistic struggles of the Saints to follow Christ was what sealed the deal for me as an adult.
As a student, I was trained to look for similarities and differences, and in the Saints' stories, there were scores of each in both categories. To a man (or woman), the Saints all loved Our Lady, and all lived through the sacraments, especially the Blessed Sacrament. They all rigorously defended (even unto death) the primacy of the Pope, and all looked to the Church to define doctrinal differences. But their differences were perhaps even more amazing.
True, although there did seem to be more canonized single Saints than married (a fact that is slowly changing), Saints definitely came in all shapes and sizes. They preached to millions and lived in caves, ruled great nations or lived in cloisters, were world-famous celebrities or obscure laborers. But whatever their situation, they gave everything to the Lord, and in losing their life, gained it for eternity, "spending their time in heaven doing good on earth," as St. Therese of Lisieux used to say.
Yet, there is another thing intriguing about Saints, their "don't-attempt-this-at-home" quality. For example, when I interviewed the great Catholic runner, Alberto Salazar, and asked him if he had not run himself into total exhaustion (and several emergency room visits) after his marathons, would he not have had a longer career. "Probably," admitted Salazar, "but I also wouldn't have won as much either." Similarly, a St. Francis of Assisi or St. Faustina probably would have lived longer if they had not fasted as much and lived such austere lives. Probably ... but would they have become Saints?
So perhaps one of the hardest things for us to do is to know where to draw the line on the hard things. And while there are no easy answers, devotion to Mary (and the Saints), plus daily reception of the Eucharist, not only strengthens us for the battle, but helps clarify which battles to take. And that supernatural knowledge is something all the Saints grew to possess too.
[Update: this post was originally published on 11-1-2006, and since that time, I have learned it was Leon Bloy who said, “The only tragedy in life is not to become a saint.”]