St John Berchmans, S.J.

(entered heaven on August 13, 1621)

Dear Bertha,

I am distressed to hear that you have returned to your old, excessive ways.  You are a college junior, my dear niece, not a hermit. Perhaps God is calling you to the privileged vocation of religious life, but for you to neglect your obvious duties now – which are clearly God’s will for you – in order to indulge your desires for dramatic sacrifices and penances, is to invite with open arms the most deadly spiritual visitor: pride.  Why not take a lesson from today’s saint instead, and follow the path of true happiness and authentic holiness?

He was a normal enough child, growing up in Belgium, reared by devout parents in a house full of five children.  He did have a quick intellect, however, and a liking for spiritual things that was out of the ordinary for children his age (a lot like you).  As soon as he was old enough to serve Mass, he used to get up early enough to serve three or four of them a day, each with recollection and devotion.  He took personal pilgrimages and put together an ample program of personal prayer while only just a schoolboy (again, just like you). But his real claim to fame was his behavior.  He was friendly with everyone, so kind and good-natured, in fact, that he was even able to influence his playmates to improve their manners and their conversation. He didn’t oppress his companions with dour looks and stuffy piety; on the contrary, he outdid them in his enthusiasm and playfulness and congeniality.

His mother died after a long sickness, during which he spent two or three hours daily by her bedside, comforting her, though he was still only a boy, and soon after he felt called to enter religious life.  Though his father was opposed, he became a Jesuit novice and started down the path of total dedication to the Kingdom of Christ.

He used to say that “If I don’t become a saint while I’m young, I never will.”  And he was right – he died when he was only 22 years old, after only five years in the seminary (he caught a fever after a debate while studying philosophy in Rome and never recovered).  His holiness was attested to by his spiritual directors and his comrades – not because of miracles or holy writings or vast works and violent penances, but because of his loving, wholehearted fidelity to the duties of his state in life, duties which he rightly deemed as God’s will for him, and which he, therefore, performed with love and perfection.

That, my dear niece, is where true holiness resides: doing God’s will – no matter how apparently insignificant it is – with love.  I hope you get the message!

Your loving uncle, Eddy

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