Some people believe that leaders are born not made. An organisation I worked at years ago ran leadership training for their managers in order to improve their leadership skills and abilities. I was not so sure about this and commented at the time that we need more followship training; otherwise everyone will be a good leader and there will be no one to follow them.
Thinking about it years later, I wonder whether Saints are born or "made".
Leaving aside for a moment the Catholic Church's perceived "habit" of declaring people Saints. As a Catholic myself, I am astounded that it seems all you have to do is send the Vatican three packet tops from a corn flakes box and Hey Presto you're a Saint. In olden times, I understand, there needed to be well researched evidence of miracles having been performed by/on behalf of certain individuals before the Vatican declared them Saints.
Let's consider real Saints for a moment. People like the early Christians, the disciples who followed Christ, or those who came later like Paul, who spent their lives preaching the Good News and were often persecuted, beaten, imprisoned and suffered cruel deaths for their beliefs. Now they were/are real Saints. People who died for Christ and deserve special recognition for what they have undergone.
Later Saints too seem to have suffered for their beliefs and for their "saintly" behaviour whilst on earth.
But how about today? How about you and me? Do we have to undergo suffering and pain in order to be accepted as Saints and to be loved by God?
I believe not. I believe God loves each one of us equally but differently. Equally meaning with no special favouritism between you and me; differently meaning loving each individual according to his need. Very much like a parent would love a disabled child differently from the others but not necessarily more or less.
God does not ask us to suffer joyfully as a pre-requisite to entering Heaven. In olden days many Saints thought so and endured self-inflicted pain and suffering for the love of God.
Saint Catherine of Sienna used to undergo extreme fasting for long periods, wore sackcloth and scourged herself three times a day.
Saint Ignatius of Loyola practised severe mortifications. He wore a hair shirt and heavy iron chain, and was in the habit of wearing a cord tied below the knee.
Saint Thomas More, Saint Teresa of Avila, Saint Marguerite Marie Alacoque, and many other Saints and elders of the Church practised mortification and self-punishments.
Even Pope John Paul II, I understand practised self-flagellation and fasting before important events.
Personally, I believe this is wrong.
God loved us so much that He gave us His only Son to die for us.
Christ’s was the ultimate sacrifice, to lay down His life to redeem us and to re-build our relationship with God which sin had destroyed.
There is nothing we can do to repay that sacrifice. Not a million candles lit in church, not a million flowers, or a million Rosaries recited. Nothing we do will repay what Christ did for us.
That is not to say that we should stop doing these things. We do them out of reverence, love and respect for our Creator and not as an act of repayment. I have lit many a candle in my time and will continue to do so.
Fasting and abstinence are also similar forms of sacrifices which we do out of reverence rather than as an act of repayment.
As for self-inflicted pain and suffering in the hope of gaining some sort of Heavenly reward; that is, in my view, wrong.
Yes, some of us bear the pain and suffering of illness and old age. This is natural, and as best we can we live with these pains with the help of whatever is available medically. But these pains, as well as the many other sufferings people endure in life, like cruelty, bullying, unhappy marriages, persecutions and so on, are not a pre-condition in order to be loved by God or to be accepted in Heaven ... or to become a Saint.
God's love for us is already given. With no conditions or expected payment.