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Saints – And am I one?

November 3, 2013

What does it mean to be a saint? Am I one? If I read my Bible then I find that all Christians are saints. That is the word that Paul, Matthew, Luke and John (Revelation) uses to describe all Christ‘s followers. So of course I must be a saint.

But that answer is a cheat. When we think of saints we tend to think of the great heroes of our faith. St. Peter, St. Paul, apostles, martyrs and so on. The word ‘saint’ has come to mean only very special Christians. While it’s important that we have good role models, I really disagree with limiting the word ‘saint’ to the special ones. Paul knew what he was doing when he didn’t limit the term. He knew that it was important for all Christians to realise that they were special, not because of what they had done, but because of what God had done for them in Jesus.

So I am a saint. I have Christ living in me, so how can I not be?

I am a saint. But, I will feel uncomfortable with the title. Deep down I can’t believe that I am all that special. The special saints yes, but not me.

It can be hard to accept that I am a saint. That is why this message is so important. The famous saints are not special in themselves. They are famous for what God was able to do in and through them. He gave some incredible faith, or courage, or insight. Some were visionaries; but all of them were ordinary people like you and me. If I put the famous saints on a high pedestal, way up there, I am separating myself from them. I look at them and say, “Well, they were special, not like me.”

If all of the saints were special, not ordinary like me, then I can’t be expected to be like them, can I? Special faith and courage are for the special ones, so I’m safe.

This is the same danger that the church faces with having people like me. You can leave it to your priests and ministers: You can leave it to the professional Christians to be saintly, it’s their job after all not yours! I can limit my expectations to looking after my parishes and leave evangelism to the evangelists, prophecy to the prophets, deep prayer to the religious communities that have dedicated themselves to nothing but prayer. All of this is so insidious, such a threat to the health of God’s people.

If all the saints were not like me then I’m safe. I’m off the hook. I don’t have to be worried about being challenged by the Holy Spirit to do something new or frightening. I can stay where I’m comfortable; I can relax in my comfort zone. I can do that. I can rest on the past and God will still keep loving me. He may be disappointed in me but his love will remain. It is not God that suffers from my apathy, it is me. If I don’t stay open to the Spirit in me; if I don’t remain ready to act on what the Spirit says; then I lose the fire, the power, and the contentment that comes with being a Christian.

I am called to be a full time, 100% Christian. At the same time God may never call me from where I am. He might want me to work away where I am, quietly, unseen by the wider world. That is also saintliness. My calling may be faithful, here to the work of this church, faithful to making this village a more godly place. That is what Gerard Manly Hopkins recognised when he wrote his poem “St. Alphonsus Rodriguez”:

Honour is flashed off exploit, so we say;
And those strokes once that gashed flesh or galled shield
Should tongue that time now, trumpet now that field,
And, on the fighter, forge his glorious day.
On Christ they do and on the martyr may;
But be the war within, the brand we wield
Unseen, the heroic breast not outward-steeled,
Earth hears no hurtle then from fiercest fray.

Yet God (that hews mountain and continent,
Earth, all, out; who, with trickling increment,
Veins violets and tall trees makes more and more)
Could crowd career with conquest while there went
Those years and years by of world without event
That in Majorca Alfonso watched the door.

It could be that I am called to do nothing more than care for these parishes, and to do it diligently. Then this needs to be my focus. This may be how I’m being called to be a saint. Being a saint is about being God’s, and seeking to let him have more and more say in my life. This can be by letting the Spirit make me the best father that I can be, that is also saintliness.

Think about your life, what you do. It could be church work, prayer, community work: It can be paid work or voluntary. A saint is not recognised by the tasks that they do; A saint is recognised by the quality of their life – by the source of their inspiration.

A saint does not have to be perfect, in fact I believe perfection to be impossible this side of the grave. If this sounds odd, just look at the lives of the saints. Peter denied Jesus. James didn’t believe that Jesus had risen from the dead. Augustine of Hippo abandoned the woman with whom he had fathered a child. I am told that Mother Teresa could be cantankerous and overbearing with some of her sisters. These saints may not have been perfect but God’s Spirit worked in them to do perfect things. Acts of love and devotion that came from the inner action of the Spirit, they are the mark of a saint.

So you are saints . God looks at you with the same eyes of love with which he looks on all his children, including the famous saints.

Think about that. I tried putting the title ‘Saint‘ before my name. It felt very strange. I thought about my fellow Christians and put the word “Saint” in front of their names. Again – very strange. It may seem odd but that is what God is doing.

Whether I feel that I deserve it or not, I am one of God’s saints, called to eternity in the presence of God.

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