A couple weeks ago I was reading Seven Storey Mountain and came across a passage where Thomas Merton talks about the beginning of World War II, and says in passing:
If I had accepted the gift of sanctity that had been put in my hands when I stood by the [baptismal] font in November 1938, what might have happened in the world?
In the context of that section of the book, it’s clear that he was basically asking, Could I have stopped the war? At first I hardly noticed it, thinking of it as a poetic hyperbole to drive home the point that we should all try to be holy. A few pages later, however, that sentence still nagged at me. I went back and re-read it, as well as the paragraph that followed:
People have no idea what one saint can do: for sanctity is stronger than the whole of hell. The saints are full of Christ in the plenitude of His Kingly and Divine power: and they are conscious of it, and give themselves to Him, that He may exercise His power through their smallest and seemingly most insignificant acts, for the salvation of the world.
Those thoughts have continued to nag at me over the past couple of weeks. When I see distressing stories on the news or think of the issues that most disturb me, an inconvenient thought keeps popping into mind: Could I have stopped this?
What I mean, of course, is not that there’s any chance I could have done much at all through my own efforts; it’s a shorthand way of saying, “If I had really died to myself, if I had fully stepped out of the way to let God’s love and strength flow through me like a firehose instead of the feeble drip that the world sees now, what could he have done through me?”
Though it seems unlikely that God would use me to effect worldwide change on a major issue, it’s certainly not impossible. Also, as Amy points out so well, one thing that is certain is that people who truly surrender their lives to God will have a huge impact on the world in some way or another, even if nobody ever knows their names.
Later in the book Merton describes a Russian Catholic woman who moved into the slums of Harlem to help the people there. After observing the amazing things that God had done through her, he writes:
It is a tremendous thing, the economy of the Holy Ghost! When the Spirit of God finds a soul in which He can work, He uses that soul for any number of purposes: opens out before its eyes a hundred new directions, multiplying its works and its opportunities for the apostolate almost beyond belief and certainly far beyond the ordinary strength of a human being.
So could I have prevented any of those horrible things I hear about on the news each night had I been a saint? The weight of my sins starts to feel awfully heavy when I realize that the answer is, “Maybe.”
you will set your whole world on fire.”
~ St. Catherine of Siena
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