I’ve got a little paperback book, “Saints Galore” – can’t put my finger on it right now so I can’t tell you who wrote it – but it offers something of an offbeat slightly irreverent look at saints. That’s not a bad idea for an age, ours, in which saints have been made into rigid stained glass figures of improbable holiness or demoted to everyone without distinction.
Most Protestants will emphasize Paul’s assertion that all who are baptized into the Christian faith are saints, at least in a generic sense. What we need to do is move from the generic to the particular. One duty of a pastor is to participate in guiding the formation of his or her flock toward a more particular sainthood, but that too often is turned into a pursuit of sentimentalized and saccharine goodness challenging reality.
Many Catholics simply cannot get around the idea that unless the pope canonizes there is no saint, and so saints become so particular and so remote that they enter a realm of otherness not open to ordinary human beings.
I wonder if we can accommodate two ideas at once. First, that each of us is called to sainthood, which can better be understood as a process of learning how to become a follower of Jesus Christ rather than one who simply accepts him as her or his savior. Second, that there are among us certain persons, flawed persons, whose lives and words have exemplified what it means to become a follower. They are worthy of being remembered, and honored in special ways because they are our elders in the faith and have helped make the path more clear for us.
Two of many examples come to mind right now. My dad was one such person for me. His politics were way too conservative for me, and some of his social attitudes and practices were straight out of the ‘30s and ‘40s. How could it be different? Those were the decades of his growth to the fullness of adulthood. But he was also a man of strong faith, committed to live in the community of the Church, and he struggled throughout his life to better understand what the bible was trying to teach him. It was a fine legacy to leave to his children and grandchildren. In a different way, so were the monks of the Anglican Benedictine Order of the Holy Cross who, though I doubt they would know it, taught me enough of the Benedictine way to have formed the way I have approached my preaching and teaching, and my own spiritual disciplines. These then are saints, and we are called to become bearers of their legacies in the name of Jesus Christ for the generations yet to follow.
Where do you find saints?