Bl. János Brenner and our journeys to sainthood

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Crucifix in the Chapel of the Church of the Incarnation. Photo by Lauren Hill

This All Saints’ Day, I found myself coming to a startling realization: We are all called to be saints. 

The homily of Fr. Joseph Van House, O.Cist., affiliate assistant professor of theology, during the All Saints’ Day mass included a passage translated from the journals of Blessed János Brenner, a Cistercian brother in the 1950s. In them, Blessed Brenner describes a vision he had in which he saw a mountain with “a peak that almost reached heaven.”

At the bottom of the mountain were “deep ditches filled with disgusting mire.” The souls that had managed to climb out of these were those who “abandoned their faults but have not set foot on the way of virtue.”

Further up the slope were those souls who had “tried to chain to themselves the dangling threads of God’s grace, as much as possible, which helped them rise higher.” Finally, nearing the top of the mountain but never reaching the peak, were the great saints who “were able to approach when the string of their life was torn, which alone had kept them on earth; they jumped into heaven.”

This vision of Bl. Brenner, translated into English by Fr. Van House and Fr. Roch Kereszty, O.Cist., presents three destinations on the journey towards sainthood: to recognize and rid ourselves of the faults bogging us down in our lives, to embrace the graces that God so freely extends towards us, and to disconnect ourselves from our worldly lives in exchange for something greater.

“I would like to think that there are some common trenches among undergraduates that I’ve managed to get beyond but also there are some that just eternally have to be fought,” said Fr. Van House, when asked about the trenches in his own life. “Learning to listen to God, becoming humble, those are all areas where I strive and I need to strive more.”

How often is it that I convince myself I’m living the life I want, only to realize that the fulfillment I’m receiving is skin-deep? Wallowing in the pits of sin allows us nothing in our lives that we wouldn’t be able to experience in a loving relationship with God. When we acknowledge our sins, we are given the chance to confront them and then move on to something greater.

That greater thing is God. Though I often forget it, I’m never alone in my struggles, whether they’re as small as a need for more patience or as big as a miracle. We only have to turn to Him for help, and He’ll gladly extend it. 

God’s graces, insurmountably beautiful and valuable as they are, are never withheld from us. Partaking in the sacraments, praying and attending religious groups are some of the ways we can open ourselves to God’s graces in our daily lives. 

Finally, Bl. Brenner’s approach to sainthood calls us to sever our connection to the physical world in exchange for spiritual greatness. While we hopefully won’t have to face the gates of Heaven anytime soon, we can still begin to place God first in our lives. 

God’s calling for us to be saints isn’t easy, but what we sacrifice to him, he will return tenfold. As translated from the journals of Bl. Brenner, “There is no greater joy than when man, in his nothingness, can become even more annihilated by becoming immersed in Christ, into the infinite world of His soul, which is filled with wonderful riches that are forever given over to us.”

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