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We can all be saints

Kate Barrett | Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Certainly you can remember times when you’ve heard people say of someone heroic, or who has endured great suffering with patience and grace, “She’s a saint!” or “He’s a saint!” Perhaps you’ve even heard it said of one of your own parents (surely not because raising you caused them suffering). Though we most often think of the big names like Francis, Therésè or Augustine when we hear “saint,” the Church from its beginnings used the term saint to mean any baptized Christian. On this feast of All Saints, then, which we celebrate today, we ought to give thanks for the folks we know and those we’ll never know whose lives have allowed others to see God at work in the world a little more clearly.

Contrary to criticisms that we worship the saints lavishly with our statues and feast days and prayers, the Church teaches us to honor the saints. Just as we would honor people who excel in the sciences, literature, peacemaking or the arts with Nobel or Pulitzer Prizes or Laetare Medals, why wouldn’t we hold in especially high esteem people who, by their courageous faith in God, lived (and often died) to bring the world around them closer to the Kingdom of God? We can best honor a saint, however, whether a well-known or anonymous holy man or woman, not with medals or prizes, but by imitating Christ in our lives, by being the kind of disciples who can speak out about God’s love.

Our culture holds up an almost constant stream of men and women who have achieved fame for their accomplishments in sports, film, music, or simply for being widely-photographed celebrities. Most of them, if we’re honest with ourselves, are not people whose lives we truly wish to emulate. What a great idea, then, for our faith to celebrate saints’ feast days: To remind ourselves throughout the year of people we really would like to imitate, and the many and various ways a person can serve God. Have an urge for world travel? St. Frances Xavier Cabrini spent her whole life on the move, from Italy to the United States to Nicaragua and Panama and Peru and back. Long to serve the poor? St. Martin de Porres begged on the street for money he used for poor families in Lima. Want to get the rich to help the poor? St. Vincent de Paul was a master at it. Today we honor not one particular saint, however; but all who are saints, and especially the ones most of us have never heard of.

Christianity proclaims God’s unconditional love, and some people just have a special capacity to disclose this love of God to the world. Think about it. If your faith in Jesus Christ, your belief in God, is alive and well today, it’s because God called you through the example or witness of another person – or probably many people. And those people grew in their faith because of the example and love of others before them. Our faith has been handed on to us from generation to generation, and the people who have done the handing on are saints, whether publicly recognized by the Church or quietly known in a family or small community of believers.

So here we are. If future generations will experience the joy of the Christian life, it will be because we allow God to work through us to proclaim it. Who will show, by word and example, the saving love of Jesus Christ to your children and grandchildren, nieces and great-nephews? Who will bring the truths of Scripture and the sacramental life to corners of the world who have never known God? Who will seek out those most in need and tend to their hunger and thirst? If you’re looking around for other folks to raise their hands, quit looking and raise your own. Today, of all days, should remind us to answer, “me,” to the above questions. God can work through each of us if we let him. We honor the saints by the way we live our lives, standing on the foundation of an innumerable communion of saints who have offered us the saving love and example of Jesus Christ.

Kate Barrett is the director of Resources and Special Projects in the Office of Campus Ministry. She can be reached at kbarrett@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.