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You’re a saint … or you sure could be!

Kate Barrett | Wednesday, November 2, 2011

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 (though surely not because raising you caused them to endure great suffering). We celebrated the Feast of All Saints on Tuesday, giving us the opportunity to remember the big names like Francis, Therésè or Augustine, along with many others officially recognized by the Church for their holiness. All Souls’ Day yesterday was a day to give thanks for the people 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 too lavishly, with 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, the arts or sports with Nobel or Pulitzer Prizes, Laetare Medals or Most Valuable Player awards. We can best honor a saint, however, whether a well-known or anonymous holy man or woman, by imitating Christ in our lives and by becoming the kind of disciples who speak to the world about God’s love.

As we honor our saints, so too does our culture hold up for public worship an almost constant stream of men and women who have achieved fame for their accomplishments: athletes, film stars, musicians and, well, widely-photographed celebrities. Beneath the shallow scraps of information we know of them from the internet or the magazine racks at the Martin’s check-out line, the lives of our secular deities probably move along the same spectrum as ours do: from saint to sinner, from good intentions to broken promises, from whole-hearted attempts at a life of integrity to moments of unbelievable selfishness.

Let’s face it, whether or not we have millions of dollars or thousands of Twitter followers to read about the choices we make each day, the decisions of our daily lives accrue into a path that leads us toward God … or doesn’t. That path will never be smooth or easy. The author Flannery O’Connor, a woman of great faith, wrote that she had “angel aggression,” that at times she felt that she had to fight off not the Devil, but angels who were backing her into corners of her house. Sometimes we fight off the angels, God’s messengers, because the path they offer challenges us so deeply, while the envoys of comfort, instant gratification, security, adulation and status offer a road easier to tread.

Think about it. If your faith in Jesus Christ, if your belief in God, is alive and well today, it’s because God has called you onto the path to sainthood at least in part 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. The Church from its beginnings used the term “saint” to mean any baptized Christian, and through time, from generation to generation, those saints have handed on our faith. Now it has been offered to us, as a gift. So here we are. The heart of Christianity proclaims God’s unconditional love. We tend to think that only certain people, “the saints,” have a special capacity to disclose this love of God to the world, but why couldn’t you or I at least give it a try? Will future generations — our children’s children and their children — experience the happiness of the Christian life and will find models for their lives in the saints of our generation? We can hope so; we can pray that it will be; we can allow God to work through us to live a life of faith courageously and to hand it on with heartfelt joy.