The Failure of the Saints


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St. Francis of Assisi went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. When he returned, he found out that two of his vicars has made changes to the Franciscan community. Francis was shocked to find his brothers living in a wealthy monastery in Bolonia. His dream of a community completely dedicated to poverty appeared compromised. He worked the rest of his life to restore this vision.

St. Joan of Arc put all of her faith in God that she had been called to lead the armies of France, expel the English invaders, and place the rightful prince of France on the throne. All of this she did. Her reward: she was betrayed by the man she placed on the throne. He allowed her to be captured by the English, who burned her at the stake as a heretic.

St. Francis Xavier had a life-changing friendship with St. Ignatius of Loyola. Filled with zeal, he wanted to preach the Gospel to mainland China. He was able to go throughout all of Southeast Asia, but he kept missing opportunities to get to his goal. At one point he was on a boat setting sail for mainland China when he remembered he left his essential paperwork at his last port. He waited and waited for the opportunity to preach in mainland China. He died of a fever while waiting.

St. Charles Borromeo wanted to throw a jubilee celebration for his home city of Milan. He worked tirelessly to bring this about until his dream came to fruition. Several people came from all over the region to celebrate. Unfortunately, they also brought with them the plague. Charles emptied out all his and the church’s treasuries to deal with the crisis.

Dorothy Day had a deep conversion to the Catholic faith from her atheistic world-view. Unfortunately, the man she loved and the father of her child, Forster Batterham, refused to come to the Lord. She had to choose God over her romantic love. This caused her so much distress that she had to be hospitalized.

St. Paul met the disciples of Socrates in Athens and was able to explain to them that the Unknown God that the Socrates worshiped was, in fact, Jesus. Despite this, Paul was grieved because he found very few converts in Athens.

St. Peter was the first pope. And yet at Antioch, he behaved so scandalously that Paul had to criticize him in front of the entire Church.

The list goes on and on. I could write an entire book about the failure of the saints.

What is the point?

Failure is a part of the journey.

All things are possible for God (Matt 19:26). With Him there is no limit to what we can accomplish. But some people become discouraged when on the road to righteousness, we stumble. Of course there is the constant struggle of sin, but that isn’t really what I’m talking about here. When we decide to follow God, we may be surprised to find that we still fail at our mission. If God is with us, shouldn’t we have success? Is this because we lack faith?

I can tell you that I have been teaching Theology for twenty years and I am constantly confronted by my own failures. I have a deep, burning desire to share the love of God with my school community. Often that fire appears to only be barely keeping a few embers warm rather than setting the world on fire. Why is that?

In my case, I’m sure I have a lot of spiritual growth to do. I am not a saint, so there are probably a great deal of spiritual graces I’m failing to bring into my community because of my own lack of holiness.

But even the saints experienced failure. How do we account for their failures if they were holy? There are few things to keep in mind:

1.Failure is a Matter of Perspective.

Did Joan of Arc fail? If her mission was to free France, then no. She could have died gloriously in battle, but then she would have remembered mainly for her military campaigns. But Joan was called to witness to her complete faith in God even when all the powers of the world and the church turn against you. She was true to the end. In fact, she was able to receive the Eucharist before her execution (which proves her conviction was a sham) and was able to look upon a crucifix as she endured her martyrdom. God allowed a perceived failure in order for her to witness to a greater glory.

2.God’s Plans are Not Our Plans

We have plans and ideas and goals. But God knows what will work out better for us and for the world. We are only failures if our plans are not completely surrendered to the Divine Plan. If this wasn’t the case, then Christ would have been a failure, dying abandoned on the cross. But of course this isn’t the case. As Jesus said, “Not my will, but Your will be done!” (Luke 22:42). God’s will was done and Christ mission is not a failure.

3.Humility

The deepest spiritual pitfall on the journey is pride. God’s power can allow for miraculous successes. And this is a great thing. But the person through whom these things are accomplished may make the mistake that the power to change lives comes from themselves and not from God. This could have a much worse effect on the soul of the potential saint. But failure reminds us that we are in constant need of God. This humility is more valuable than any perceived victory. Those we are trying to reach have the freedom to accept or reject the word. We have to remember that any change comes not from us, but God in us.

So do not despair. You will fail, or at least seemingly fail on the faith journey. That is not the fatal thing.

The only fatal thing is to give up.

Copyright 2019, WL Grayson

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W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

I am a devoutly Catholic theology teacher who loves a popular culture that often, quite frankly, hates me. I grew up absorbing every movie, TV show, comic book, science fiction novel, etc. I could find. As of today I’ve watched over 2100 movies and tv shows. They take up a huge part of my life. I don’t know that this is a good thing, but it has given me a common vocabulary to draw from in order to illustrate whatever theological point I make in class. I’ve used American Pie the song to explain the Book of Revelation (I’ll post on this some time later) and American Pie the movie to help explain Eucharist (don’t ask). The point is that the popular culture is popular for a reason. It is woven into the fabric of our lives and imaginations, for good or ill. In this blog I will attempt to bring together the things of heaven with the things of earth. Of course this goal may be too lofty for someone like me.

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