Have you ever admired someone? I mean to the degree that you want to be just like them.
For years now, I’ve admired, even venerated, G.K. Chesterton—and I don’t mean just his writing, as brilliant as that is, but Chesterton as a man. Chesterton is what I would like to be, if I had my way: joyful, witty, hilarious, humble, brilliantly insightful, imaginative, poetic, an effortless writer, childlike, prolifically productive, encyclopedic, a friend to all, even his intellectual and spiritual enemies—and the list goes on.
And because I admire Chesterton so highly, I have often found myself striving to imitate him in daily life. Recently, though, it’s dawned on me just how different we are. He was tall and fat, I am short and thin. He was perpetually exuberant, while I tend to be more melancholic and introverted. He could toss off a book effortlessly, while I have to work at every word I write. He had a voluminous mind, while I forget the most basic details.
The point is, I am not, nor will I ever be, G.K. Chesterton. Chesterton had a natural genius, a unique charism of sanctity that I will never have. Of course, he also had his own sins and shortcomings that I may not struggle with. The same goes for many of the saints I venerate—they were fundamentally different people than I am, and that’s alright.
The reason I bring this up is that I find quite often that veneration can subtly turn into envy. We admire someone so much that we grow discontent with who we are, with the unique gifts and personality given to us by God. Instead of wanting to be holy in the way that God has called us to be holy, we want to be holy in someone else’s way. In other words, we can succumb to the temptation to admire a person more than their sanctity.
The truth is, the body of Christ is made up of many members, all with unique gifts and unique functions. While all the saints shone with the same virtues, they often displayed them in different ways and degrees, shimmering with the virtues that God had called them to put most gloriously on display. St. Paul makes this point abundantly clear in 1 Corinthians 12:4-6:
…there are different kinds of gifts, though it is the same Spirit who gives them, just as there are different kinds of service, though it is the same Lord we serve, and different manifestations of power, though it is the same God who manifests his power everywhere in all of us.
The entirety of chapter 12 is an extended meditation on this point, and I highly recommend you read the entire thing. Interestingly, however, immediately after this meditation on the multiplicity of gifts in the church follows the famous chapter on the primacy of love, 1 Corinthians 13. If you follow St. Paul’s train of thought, you will see that he is exhorting the Christians at Corinth not to envy one another’s gifts, but rather to seek first and foremost the best gift of all, true charity, which is the one gift that will draw us closest to Christ and make us most like him.
It is good and right to allow the saints to inspire us to greater holiness. We must simply be careful that we seek above all to imitate Christ, as it is to him that the saints ultimately point us, like sign posts along the road. And above all, we must learn to be content with who we are, cultivating the unique gifts that the good God has given us in his abundant love.
Sam Guzman – Sam Guzman is an author and editor of The Catholic Gentleman whose work has appeared in several publications. He resides in Wisconsin with his wife and two small boys where he is also the Communications Director for Pro-Life Wisconsin.