MAI: What does it take to become a saint?

October 25, 2022

Pope Francis celebrates Mass for the canonization of 10 new saints in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican May 15, 2022. Five of the new saints are from Italy, three from France, one from India and one from the Netherlands. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

“All men by nature desire to know” - Aristotle 

What do men desire to know? The truth. I have seen this to be especially evident with the younger generation.

Prior to entering seminary, I was the director of youth ministry at my home parish, Notre Dame in Houston, for more than four years. I had the privilege of accompanying many young people in their journey of faith, and in many ways, they helped me respond to the invitation to discern the priesthood.

As anyone who has ever been involved with youth ministry knows — there was, and still is, always the question of how we get the young people to be engaged in the life of the Church. And every year, without fail, whether preparing for the Sacrament of Confirmation or faith formation in general, I would encounter youth who did not want to be there, thought it was boring, or would say their parents forced them to be there.

This is not new, but this is true. Another reality I have experienced was the transformation of some of those same youth — from not wanting to be at church to being on fire for the Lord.

Initially, it was tempting for me to think that this transformation only happened because their friends, boyfriend/girlfriend were in the youth group, or they had nothing else to do, thought it was fun, etc. These are all good things and might have very well been part of the reason.

Nevertheless, above all, I believe this transformation happened because they came to know the truth.

The Catholic Church teaches that God himself is truth, goodness and beauty — that which we all long for is found in God!

Furthermore, despite what our culture tries to feed us, not everything is subjective or relative. For instance, a truth that is “true for you, but not true for me.” There is such a thing as objective and absolute truth — something that is true independent of how I feel or whether I want to believe it.

To say “there is no absolute truth” would be making an absolute statement, a contradiction.

Hence, St. Augustine teaches, “I have met many who wanted to deceive, but none who wanted to be deceived.” Nobody likes being lied to. The youth are thirsting for truth and authenticity. All the while, they are getting pulled in so many different directions with the influence of social media, decline in mental health, concerns for social justice, etc.

Not to mention everything they experience with family, friends, work and school. As a result, it can be hard to trust that this truth that the Church teaches is worth fighting for. This is normal. Somewhere along the way, we can start to doubt in the dark what we knew was true in the light. What changes is not the truth but how we feel about the truth. There is no shame in this.

To the youth, my invitation is to permit yourself to start over as many times as you need (Sacrament of Reconciliation is a good place to start). St. Josemaria Escriva said, “To begin is for everyone, to persevere is for saints… a saint is a sinner who keeps trying.”

This is the secret to sainthood. Be a person of perseverance, of grit! Keep showing up and allow yourself to wrestle with God. I understand that the “fire” can seem to burn out for various reasons. This can often lead to discouragement, despair, anger, guilt, shame and so forth.
This is a common tactic of the enemy to cause a wedge between you and God. If not addressed, it only causes you to stray more and more from practicing the faith.

Therefore, it is crucial to “be aware” of the voices (God, the enemy, yourself) you listen to, “understand” them for what it is, and “take action” — to accept that which is good and leads you toward God and reject all that which pulls you away. Be willing to do whatever it takes to be a saint. 

Christian Mai is the former youth minister of Notre Dame and currently a seminarian of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.