Friday, October 4, 2013

Many Paths to Heaven

During introductions at the start of bible study, one of the ladies was introduced by another member as "Saint M," for her patience and generosity. She has 10 children, including one with special needs, and yet she still finds quite a bit of time to help out in the parish. I don't know her well, barely know her at all, but that introduction gave me that twinge. You know the one, right? The assumption that parents of many children are more holy than the rest of us twinge. It isn't my place to say whether she is a saint or not; in fact, it's not my place to judge her (or anyone) at all. Only I really, really hate the assumption that parenting a large family is an automatic entry to heaven, perhaps even the best way to heaven. Yes, the Bible says:
"Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. " Genesis 1:28, NIV
 Yet St. Paul writes:
" I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.
"Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do.  But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion." 1 Corinthians 7:7-9, NIV
You would hope that would remind people that not everyone is called to follow the same path. In fact, all you have to do is look at the saints' lives to be reminded that there are multiple paths to heaven; some saints were married and had children, others were celibate; some were martyrs, others lived long, peaceful lives; some saints were born wealthy, others poor. It would be pretty boring reading if every saint's life followed the same exact pattern. All I need to do to see the differences in the saints is look at the two saints for whom I was named: St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr, and Blessed Mother Theresa of Calcutta, who lived a long life serving the poor. (The proximate reason for my first name is my father and grandfather, but ultimately the reason for the name goes back to St. Stephen. And yes, I know Mother Theresa hasn't been canonized yet.) It would be hard to find two saints with more different stories; one lived when Jesus walked the earth; the other was alive during my lifetime. One male, one female; one was martyred, the other died peacefully; one is known most for proclaiming the Gospel, the other for serving the poor. But both of their paths are ways to heaven. I can only hope and pray that we can help others see how many and varied are the paths to heaven.

Lately one Scripture passage has stuck with me:
 Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.  But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him...
"When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.  But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." Matthew 6: 1-8, 16-18, NIV
Many of us have complained about how IF is an invisible cross and how it's invisibility causes added suffering, largely through the assumptions and thoughtless statements of others. Instead of rueing the invisibility of our cross, though, perhaps we should be glad for it. As is said in the Scripture passage above, "Your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." All those times we struggle to show joy for others while quietly sorrowing for ourselves are seen by our Father. Though we may not have thought of it that way, we are precisely following Jesus' instructions to hide our fasting and suffering.

I've already run on far too long, but I wanted to close with a quote from Blessed Mother Theresa.
One thing Jesus asks of me: that I lean on Him; that in Him and only in Him I put complete trust; that I surrender myself to Him unreservedly. Even when all goes wrong and I feel as if I am a ship without a compass, I must give myself complete to Him. I must not attempt to control God's action; I must count the stages in the journey He would have me make. I must not desire a clear perception of my advance upon the road, must not know precisely where I am upon the way of holiness. I ask Him to make a saint of me, yet I must leave to Him the choice of the saintliness itself and still more the means that lead to it.


  1. What a great reflection! I think you have a very valid point, and it's something that I'll be mulling over for a while.

  2. I've definitely felt the same way before when certain referneces are made to the beauty of large families. Beautiful and holy they are (I came from one myself) but I somehow feel looked down on because we have no kids. Luv'd the connection between IF being a private suffering and Jesus' command to pray in secret. Never thought of it that way! Also wanted to share this quote I recenttly came accross, it really blessed me: “God in his providence has two ways of blessing marriages: one by giving them children; and the other, sometimes, because he loves them so much, by not giving them children. I don’t know which is the better blessing. In any event, let one accept his own.” ~Bl. Josemaria Escriva

  3. I know that twinge!! I actually had a priest say to me once, "I always thought 'big families - good', 'small families - bad'" (this was after I shared with him about the cross of IF, and he was confessing that he never considered that before.

    I think part of the suffering of IF is being gracious when others make those kinds of comments - at least I know for me, I really want to get mad and tell them off...but then I remember that they probably just never thought about IF (like the priest) and plus, I'm sure there are plenty of saintly moms out there!

    All that is to say, I can totally relate to your feelings and comments here, and yes, how beautiful that sainthood is for ALL of us!

  4. Love this reflection.
    I used to be one of those people who thought big familes=good Catholics, honeymoon babies=good Catholics, etc.... ha.