How to Become a Saint

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Don Quixote, the first part of which was published in 1605 by Miguel de Cervantes, is one of those wonderful books we all learned about in high school, but most of us have not yet read.

It is widely considered one of the finest novels ever written.  Only the Bible has been translated into more languages.

In a nutshell, Don Quixote is the tale of an ordinary man – an incurable romantic – who has been reading way too many adventure stories.  He dreams of restoring the ideal of knighthood to a world that could care less about chivalry. 

He recruits a simple farmer named Sancho Panza to be his faithful squire.  Then he sets off, seemingly an utter fool, to become a true knight.

But a funny thing happens to Don Quixote as he pursues a life of humble heroism.  He actually succeeds. 

According to poet Mark Van Doren, one of the profound lessons of Don Quixote is, “the way to become a knight is to act like a knight.”  Or, as members of Alcoholics Anonymous and other Twelve Step groups often put it, fake it till you make it.

Not all of us resonate with that catchphrase.  Why should I have to fake something that any decent person ought to be doing sincerely?

The answer is that it’s much easier to act our way into feelings than to feel our way into actions.

I may have concluded that loving my enemies and giving generously to the poor are the right things to do.  But if I decide to wait until I feel like loving that jerk who cost me my last job, or surrendering part of my paycheck to a family in need, I may be waiting for the rest of my life.

One of the boldest acts of faith is to begin to do now, as best I can, what I know to be right. 

Even though I don’t yet really feel like doing it.

It’s impossible to say how many marriages and family relationships have been saved because one person decided, “Even though there are a lot of things that are hurting in this relationship, I’m going to go ahead and do the things I’d be doing if I were truly in love.”  On the other side of small gifts, little surprises, offers of affection, and choosing to be attentive, it’s amazing how often the feelings of love are gradually rekindled.

As Jesus puts it in John 7:17, “If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.”

In other words, the choice to obey comes first.  Spiritual confidence comes later. 

Experience proves that the way to become a saint is essentially to start acting like a saint.

Or as Don Quixote and the folks at Nike might put it:  Just do it.