The trouble with saints, is that, well, they are just so darn saintly. Not exactly people that regular folks like myself can hope to emulate. I’m told actually, and I can confirm it based on some of my readings, that most if not all saints were actually not quite as saintly as we might think.
I don’t mean that they were not saintly as they are purported to be, but rather than being human, they too suffered from challenges and desires common to all of us. It is perhaps in the way they dealt with these difficulties that separates them from us.
And frankly, it shouldn’t. I recall, as a about to become Roman Catholic, being told that everyone should aspire to being a saint. This was not some egotistical adventure, but something that each and every one of us could accomplish.
The trouble is, that we tend to focus on the inspiring aspects of our saints, and that makes them a bit too untouchable, and us a bit too arrogant in wishing to be like them. Like I said, if we had a more balanced view of them, perhaps we wouldn’t find the task so daunting.
No doubt some folks dismiss the idea of working toward sainthood, simply because they don’t want to “work” that hard at being good. It’s far easier to knowingly sin and then ask forgiveness. It just seems like being a saint is, well, too prissy and too boring. All the spice of life is sacrificed in pursuit of the goal. Most of us don’t want to lead grey bland lives.
So seeing our saints as human and thus subject to sin as we are, is helpful. One of my favorites has always been Augustine, bishop of Hippo, father of the church, and frankly, he came up with a fair amount of dogma that we could have better done without.
The reason I love Augustine so much, is that frankly, at least at the beginning, he was most human. Born of a Christian mother, and pagan father, Augustine, for some years lived the life of a rhetorician, keeping a mistress and fathering a son.
His mother, Monica, prayed for her son daily so we are told, and finally, as Augustine recounts in his “Confessions” he saw the truth of the scriptures and converted. Yet, even in his initial euphoria of faith, he was practical.
He asked God to take from him the desire for sexual pleasure, but he added, “but not just yet.” And in that, Augustine was oh so very human. One has to move slowly into this new kind of life, best not to go cold turkey with everything!
Stories like that make saints approachable. They remind us that we are potential saints as well. We can have serious shortcomings, but in time, we can overcome them. We can fight one or more over a lifetime, and still be accounted as holy. Indeed, Wisdom 3:1-9 from today’s liturgy, says that those accounted lost by the world, are safely with God and at peace. There, they work with God to effect God’s good pleasure for the world.
Today we celebrate All Saint’s Day. We remember 0ur favorite saints, and we remember all who have died. We cannot of ourselves determine who is saintly and who is not. That is up to God. But we can and must hope that our friends and relatives, those that precede us in death, have indeed found the peace of God in eternal comfort. We feel their presence, and we can feel their urging.
No doubt they felt in their lifetime unworthy of any such appellation. We account them saintly by their behaviors and their words, yet we can never be sure. Certainly they had no such expectations.
How do we become saintly? I would argue that it is not by deliberate design in creating a lifestyle that is “saintly,” whatever that might mean to anyone. I think, in the end, it is simply having faith that God calls us to love and to serve. Having that faith, and believing that it is worthwhile and in keeping with his desire for us, we act in a manner that upholds that love and service.
Perhaps the cutting edge of that life is to maintain that faith, and thus the love and service during those times in our lives when we don’t want to exert ourselves, and most especially when we feel too weak to stand before the world as witness. If we can find meaning in our suffering, if we can find God sharing that suffering with us, then we may find the strength to do as Job did, and as so many of the patriarchs and well known saints did. We will let it be, and we will continue to love.
We will stand alone, if need be, quietly speaking our faith, calmly walking the path, because we truly can see no other way. To others, we may appear foolish, but we trust in God’s intimate presence to us and we wish to share that joy with the world.
Saints, for all the hoopla, were ordinary people, who often through extraordinary circumstances, did things they might never have dreamed possible. Each of us can prepare ourselves for that. Don’t sell yourself short, you may be a saint in the making. God surely hopes so.