When I was in junior high school, there was a group of kids that many of us called the “anti-group.” This title doesn’t indicate that they ceased to be a group, but rather, that they were a group of students who were “anti-” everything. In other words, they thrived on nonconformity. If the fad for girls was to wear backpacks high on their backs, the girls in the anti-group wore their backpacks sagging at their knees. If the fad for boys was to wear boy’s pants (which, of course, makes practical sense), then the anti-group boys wore girls’ pants. (These are most certainly real examples.) The kids in this group were anti-giving in, anti-surrendering their strategic uniqueness, anti-conformity.
And if you think about it, that’s the attitude of the world around us. Celebrities make desperate attempts to stand out—to be different—which almost always lands then in a place where they can hardly recognize themselves. They feel like they can only find their identity in their nonconformity.
But, as in most cases, we can see how our faith runs completely against the tide of our culture. As Catholics, we know it’s all about conformity…well, specifically, conformity to God’s will.
What our culture doesn’t understand is that we find our identity IN our complete conformity—not outside of it! The more we conform ourselves to God’s will from moment to moment, the more we uncover our true selves. All of our vices are like layers stacked on top of the Christ-like image that God gave each and every one of us. I remember one time in elementary school when my friend Motoki dropped his favorite eraser in the bottom of one of the trashcans in the cafeteria. In order to get to his treasure—in this case, the eraser—we had to dive our clean hands into the abhorrently unclean cafeteria dumpster in order to take out all of the nasty pieces of garbage that were covering it. It is much the same way with our faith. In our spiritual lives, we see that in order for us to get to that place where we are in complete conformity to the will of God, we have to take off all of those layers of garbage—our vices—which inhibit us from that treasure of conformity.
But how do we do this? Well, what are the vices best competitors? The virtues.
The seven virtues—justice, prudence, temperance, and fortitude (the cardinal virtues) and faith, hope and charity (the theological virtues)—are the only and best methods to defeat our vices, especially the seven deadly sins: pride, greed, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, sloth.
And how does practicing these virtues on a moment-by-moment level defeat our vices?
By making us holy. By making us saints.
As Christians, we seem to always be asking ourselves that million-dollar question: What is God’s will for me? The answer is simple. God’s will for you is that you become holy. God’s will for you is that you go to Heaven. And for you to become holy and for you to go to Heaven, you must become a saint. For you to become a saint, you have to completely conform to God’s will. So yes, God’s will is that you conform completely to God’s will, so that you can become holy, be a saint, and go to Heaven.
Leon Bloy says, “In the end of life there exists only one tragedy: not to have been a saint.”
And the Church teaches us virtues to help us achieve just that: sainthood.
But this saint-making process, this process of complete conformity, is hard, ongoing work. We can’t simply accept Jesus into our hearts, proclaim that we’re saved, and declare the case closed. Complete conformity isn’t a moment. It’s a process. Conversion is the beginning, not an end. Complete and constant conformity to the will of God is the fruit of initial conversion.
As Catholics, we know well how hard this process of complete conformity can be. My whole life I’ve had people tell me things like, “Well that’s easy for you to do. You are always ‘being good’.” Please, do not let anyone diminish the hard work it takes to become a saint. Find strength in the fact that Christ and our many saintly intercessors know your struggle.
C.S. Lewis says in Mere Christianity that “No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good. A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. After all, you find out the strength of the German army by fighting it, not by giving in….That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in. We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it” (p. 109-110).
And one more important point: God’s will is not for you to go to Purgatory. His will is for you to go to Heaven. The extent to which you are completely conforming to God’s will in your life is your statement to God about what you are aiming for. God’s will is for you to go to Heaven. Aim for heaven. If you miss, you have a decent, but not pleasant, back-up. Don’t aim for Purgatory. I don’t recommend the back-up.
– Visit the ICL again tomorrow for Part II of this article titled: Takin’ Out the Garbage
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