On the last page of Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis writes:
“Until you have given up your whole self to Him, you will not have a real self. Sameness is to be most among the most natural men and not among those who surrender to Christ. How monotonously alike all the great tyrants and conquerors have been. How gloriously different are the saints.”
Were the saints only different when they became saints? Was it sanctity that made them so different? Their histories say no. The stories of the saints are very different, long before they demonstrated the sanctity for which they’re remembered.
St. John of the Cross grew up in a poor family, while Saint Anselm was a young nobleman. Saint Augustine lived a hedonistic life for a time, while St. Therese can seem to have been almost supernaturally good.
Were they only different before becoming saints? Did their sanctity make them carbon copies of each other? Again, no. The writing of the saints, and the spiritualities they taught, don’t bear that out.
Why is there Franciscan spirituality and Dominican, Ignatian and Salesian, and many others, if they are all precisely the same? Of course, they are not the same, just as their founders were not the same.
The Founder of Miles Christi, Fr. Yannuzzi, MC, writes, for example, that “(t)he charism of a Religious Order is a concrete way of living the Gospel. It is a specific mission, a distinctive spirit and character that the founder has seen or felt inspired to raise in the Church…”. (M.C. Report No. 171) It is not the only character or mission, but one that the founder has felt inspired to.
Yet our faith is unifying, not dividing. It is meant to bring together one family, one Body of Christ. How does that work? There is only one way to God, but the evidence of the saints seems to suggest there are many. The answer is – as it often seems to be in our faith – both.
Are there many ways to God? Yes, as many as there are saints.
Are there many ways to God? No, only one way: Jesus Christ.
How gloriously different are the saints. How different are all of us, too — we who are, hopefully, on our way to becoming saints. How different the ways we pray, the spiritualities we follow, the books we read, the saints we admire. How different the forms and rites by which we worship. How different the ways we travel the one way that is Jesus Christ.
Dr. Kreeft, in a talk on the Imagination, adds this quip: “What’s the difference between Adolph Hitler and Attila the Hun? A moustache and a German accent. What’s the different between Thomas Aquinas and Thomas Moore, or Teresa of Avila and Therese of Liseux? All the difference in the world. They’re all characters.”
We are all characters, but there is one story. We are all different, but all striving to be unified with the one God, and in that, we all travel the same one path, even if our modes of travel are quite different.
We may not understand the way in which another is traveling, but we all, ultimately, have the same end — even those who don’t know it. We are all trying to go in the same direction — toward Him.
Copyright 2015, Joe Wetterling