When I was small, my Mom dropped me off at a little friend’s house to play for the afternoon with these words, “Be nice!” Several hours later, she picked me up at the appointed time and asked me how it went. I replied thoughtfully, “Mom, it’s hard to be nice.” Needless to say, I am not saint material.
I was not even very ladylike when I was growing up. I was a tomboy, playing sports with my brother and father. My mother thought I needed a little instruction in the finer side of life. However, we did not have much money and so, she sent me to the basement of Sears to Sears Charm School. Really. Would I make that up? They taught telephone etiquette, how to walk and sit down like a female, how to dress, and how to apply cosmetics. (Side note: The latter is a practice, which I have never mastered, but I have saved a lot of money without buying make up.) My mother was very proud of me at the fashion show at the Sears Charm School Graduation Ceremony when we modeled Sears clothing. She even bought me the plaid pantsuit I wore and said I was the best looking girl in the show. You can imagine the competition. After that snarky remark, you can tell that I am still not saint material.
Nevertheless, Thomas Merton’s words confront me:
“For me to be a saint means to be myself. Therefore the problem of sanctity and salvation is in fact the problem of finding out who I am and of discovering my true self…God leaves us free to be whatever we like. We can be ourselves or not, as we please. We are at liberty to be real, or to be unreal. We may be true or false, the choice is ours. We may wear now one mask and now another, and never, if we so desire, appear with our own true face. But we cannot make these choices with impunity. Causes have effects, and if we lie to ourselves and to others, then we cannot expect to find truth and reality whenever we happen to want them. If we have chosen the way of falsity we must not be surprised that truth eludes us when we finally come to need it.” – New Seeds of Contemplation
So, we have the choice to be who we were created to be, our true selves or our fake, unreal selves. Over the years, we get to peel back the layers of the false self, who tried to please others or accommodate to them. We let go of the egocentric desires for power, honor and knowledge, in which the false self is clothed. We are called to be more fully our true selves. Maybe, we get to let our gifts shine more fully. Perhaps, we get to pursue a new turn in our vocation or something that has emerged with new importance in life. We are grounded in reality that we are like others, not better or worse.
Did you ever think that you would get to be a saint? According to Merton, you can! To be a saint means to be your true self. Happy All Saints Day!