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GROWING UP CATHOLIC | It’s all chalk

There’s a G.K. Chesterton essay, “A Piece of Chalk,” in which he talks about how, being bored one day, he puts a piece of chalk in his pocket and goes to a field to sketch. He soon remembers he’s a terrible artist, so instead of drawing the actual cow that had wandered near him, he draws the soul of the cow. He writes, “The soul was all purple and silver, and had seven horns and the mystery that belongs to all beasts. But though I could not with a crayon get the best out of the landscape, it does not follow that the landscape was not getting the best out of me.”

Here’s a man enjoying the afternoon in the most childlike way — coloring. Even though he isn’t good at it, he finds he’s benefiting by simply sitting quietly. We humans have the illusion that we can impose our will on our surroundings when, in fact, quite the opposite is happening. In life, it isn’t how much we conquer or accomplish, it’s about what is given to us.

We think of the saints as people who accomplish extraordinary deeds, but the deeds don’t make the saint. We know that saints intercede for us with God and He listens to them, but the miracle, which comes from God, is not what causes the Church to say, “This person was a saint.” The declaration of sainthood arrives with the recognition of heroic virtue. A saint is not by definition a wonder-worker, but a saint is someone who has cooperated with the Holy Spirit, who responds wholeheartedly to grace.

We give from riches and poverty alike. All of it is pleasing to God. Really, though, it’s a question of what we’re receiving. St. John says, “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God.” Grace works from the inside out. We are given God’s love, His best gift, which has re-creative power.

Sainthood is a leaving-aside of sin, but also a gathering-up of virtue. Chesterton, scribbling with white chalk, knows that white is not the absence of color. He writes, “It is a shining and affirmative thing, as fierce as red, as definite as black … a plain and positive thing like the sun.”

On All Saints Day, consider the positive value of your virtues. If you think you have not been given any particular gifts, I assure you that you have, because as St. John makes clear, God does not withhold His gifts from us.

Chesterton eventually loses his piece of chalk. He frantically searches, then pauses and laughs. He remembers he’s sitting in a field in Southern England, surrounded by rocks peeking out of the soil, each one made of chalk. He breaks a piece off the nearest rock and resumes drawing.

This communion of saints we’ve been given, this ancient, frustrating, stubborn Church that we’ve inherited, this gift of faith we struggle with, this insistent call of God to enter more deeply into His love and become saints — it’s all chalk. Pick it up and start drawing.

Father Rennier is pastor of Epiphany of Our Lord Parish in St. Louis. A former Anglican priest, he was ordained in 2016 under a pastoral provision for the reception of Anglicans and Episcopalians into full communion with the Catholic Church. He and his wife, Amber, have six children.

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