Strength of Faith
“Blessed are… Blessed are they…”
One day a man was walking through a beautiful church building with his four-year-old son. As they walked, the young boy looked around. He stopped and was curious about the stained-glass windows that looked so beautiful with their bright colors and the dappled light they shed. As he looked at the windows, he asked, “Who are all the people in the windows, daddy?” “They are Saints,” said the father. “Who are Saints daddy?” the kid asked. The father was stuck. How was he going to explain who saints were to a four-year-old boy? As the boy was still looking up at the windows and the father was still wondering how he would explain who saints are, the young boy suddenly shouted out, “I know who saints are daddy; they are the people that the light shines through.”
Sometimes we mistakenly think of saints in the same way we may think of angels or, at the very least, only the very select few from the past such as Saint Francis or Saint Anthony, or the Apostles, Evangelists, and many of the Church Fathers.
In recent years, some Churches have been cranking out new saints like factories make cars. In past ages, it was very hard to get to that level. It required far more than holding an office or making up a vision; it required a life of heroic virtue.
The problem with all these formulaic approaches to “sainting” someone is that the approach makes it too easy or process oriented to be a saint. By doing that, the faithful get confused, and we either walk around feeling completely unable to reach sainthood or thinking, hey, I am already there, I don’t even have to do anything.
So, who is a saint and how can I possibly get there?
Saints are human. Ok, we got that. We are human.
A saint is a follower of Jesus Christ. Ok, we got that. We follow Jesus.
Saints were fishermen, students, farmers, tent makers, doctors, teachers, carpenters, former prostitutes, extortionists, outcasts, robbers–you name it. Saints were both rich and poor. They were orphans or members of large families. Ok, we got that. We come from many different backgrounds.
Saints were born again people, or as we refer to it, were regenerated by the Holy Spirit. If we have had that conversion experience in our lives, we understand that. We were certainly changed inwardly and outwardly by our baptism-confirmation where sacramental regeneration took place, and somewhere along the line we knowingly and with full intent confessed our sins and offered our lives completely to Jesus. This is where we start seeing the separation between the casual churchgoer, or the I got baptized and the I’m never going back there crowd, and faithful believers whose lives have been transformed.
Saints were called and they answered by living lives that were holy and extremely dedicated both in terms of attitude, and in the sense of being set apart. This is also where we also see some separation. In fact, we are all called by Christ through the Holy Spirit. The answer to that call, the saying yes to God is what makes the difference. Am I one who is living a holy and dedicated life? Am I all about Jesus, or have I left things in the way of holiness and dedication? The answer tells me where I am on the road to sainthood.
Saints were still real people – ok we are human, we already answered that – but that is not what this means. What this means is that saints were far from perfect. Saints weren’t infallible. Sometimes saints disagreed with one another. Just think of all the mistakes the Apostle Peter made… or John… or James. What made the difference for them was not their sin and failings, it was the fact that they learned as they went. They learned from their mistakes. They learned by allowing Christ to forgive them, by accepting Christ’s forgiveness and moving on in Christ. Bottom line, the mistakes of their earlier lives trained them not to do it again. They did not persist in sin; they did not let themselves remain in ignorance. They would not allow sin to stand and confronted it both in themselves and in the world.
We are real people. We are on the same journey… the journey of following Jesus… the journey of learning to be more and more like Jesus… which is a process of constant growth in Strength of Faith where we become more and more faithful, loving, and indeed vocal in calling others to Jesus. We do not let judgmentalism, condemnation, and prejudices take root in us, nor do we stand for it in others. If I am on that road I am on the road to sainthood.
We are in a process, a process of becoming ones who allow the light to shine through them. We are in the process of becoming ones of whom it can be said, Blessed are they…
We have checked the boxes, human, Christ follower, from many backgrounds, regenerated in the Spirit, called, and a real person who is learning from mistakes, acknowledges forgiveness, and doesn’t let it happen again. What next?
All the words in both Greek and Hebrew that are used in the Bible and are translated into the word “saint” all have the same definition. According to Scripture, a saint is sacred, holy, pure, blameless, dedicated. If you look at the lives of the saints of old, you will see that they met that definition. So can we.
Of course, the word “holy” doesn’t mean “perfect,” it means “set apart,” “set apart to serve God.” Will we pledge as we did in baptism-confirmation to be “set apart?”
The only way we can be “pure and blameless” is through the blood of Jesus shed on the Cross covering and washing away the stain of our sins. Will we pledge to trust in Jesus’ sacrifice which washes away our sins and makes us pure and blameless?
But “dedicated.” Dedicated is a whole different level. Yes, a saint is dedicated. Yes, a saint may fall, but a saint gets back up again. Yes, a saint may fall into sin, lose their temper, hurt another by word or deed, but a saint asks God for forgiveness, accepts that forgiveness and asks God for the strength to grow in love. That’s what it means to be “dedicated.”
A dedicated follower of Jesus Christ may not always love their enemies, but that is their goal. When they find that they cannot love their enemies, they ask God for God’s love to overcome their anger and hatred. When they find it difficult to pray for those who mistreat them, a dedicated follower of Jesus Christ prays for those who mistreat them anyway. If a dedicated follower of Jesus Christ finds it nearly impossible not to judge another person, they admit this failure to God and ask God to enable them not to judge. They pray to God to help them to love all persons, no matter who that person is, what they look like, or how they live their lives. And because dedicated followers of Jesus Christ are called to “turn the other cheek,” and if someone takes their coat–they are to give their shirt as well… they are to pray to God that they don’t demand “special rights and privileges” from the world and from other people. Saints are not to take others to court, blast other people in the media or from the pulpit, or from the ballot box. There can be no doubt that this kind of living, the lifestyle we are called to is as radical as it can possibly get…and no one gets it completely right, but can I pledge to dedicate and re-dedicate myself to walking the gospel path?
It’s been said that “A saint is someone whose life makes it easier to believe in God.” A saint is someone through whom we catch a glimpse of what God is like – someone who lets God’s light, in Christ, and through the Holy Spirit shine through them. The four-year-old was right. We can do that. In fact, we are on the road to becoming saints. Let us then close any gaps and live what we are called to be – saints – and so join with Mary, the glorious band of Apostles and Martyrs, and all the saints around God’s throne. Amen.