There are a lot of reasons why I don’t like the prescription to be “the best version of yourself,” but maybe the strongest one is that it not only ends with “yourself” but actually begins with “yourself.” It is as if there is a preset catalogue of “yourself-s” and the point is to choose the best one. Or, instead, it means something like maximizing your potential, especially spiritually. Either way, that’s the wrong image, and images shape our imaginations.
Usually, the experiences that linger prominently in our memories have a special significance. Often, they are associated with an emotionally-charged encounter or an event that profoundly influenced us at the time. But many of these experiences, when revisited through contemplation across the years, continue to affect us and contribute to the person we are becoming.
“The dazzling genius of Augustine, the luminous wisdom of Thomas Aquinas, have shed forth upon souls the rays of an imperishable splendor; through them, Christ and his doctrine have become better known. The divine poem lived out by Francis of Assisi has given to the world an imitation, as yet unequaled, of the life of God made man. Through him legions of men and women have learned to love God more perfectly. But a little Carmelite who had hardly reached adult age has conquered in less than half a century innumerable hosts of disciples. Doctors of the law have become children at her school; the Supreme Shepherd has exalted her and prays to her with humble and assiduous supplications; and even at this moment from one end of the earth to the other, there are millions of souls whose interior life has received the beneficent influence of [her] little book [The Story of a Soul].”
Honour is flashed off exploit, so we say;
And those strokes once that gashed flesh or galled shield
Should tongue that time now, trumpet now that field,
And, on the fighter, forge his glorious day.
On Christ they do and on the martyr may;
But be the war within, the brand we wield
Unseen, the heroic breast not outward-steeled,
Earth hears no hurtle then from fiercest fray.
Yet God (that hews mountain and continent,
Earth, all, out; who, with trickling increment,
Veins violets and tall trees makes more and more)
Could crowd career with conquest while there went
Those years and years by of world without event
That in Majorca Alfonso watched the door.
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger once reported that “the only really effective apologia for Christianity comes down to two arguments, namely the saints the Church has produced and the art which has grown in her womb.” In this month marked by the feast of All Saints, I wish to take up examples of the truth of Ratzinger’s statement, one from the literary arts and one from the visual arts, both related to the saints.