The farm home of my paternal grandparents, just half an hour from our Oamaru then Timaru home, was a great place to stay for a night or two at a weekend or a week or two in the school holidays. There are many moments from those days that provided food for my nascent faith, examples for another time, but today I’ll share one.
On the bookshelf in my room at Grandma and Grandads were some great children’s books and as I reflect today I remember a couple of collections of Lives of the Saints written especially for children. Some FFF readers will recall the Six O’Clock Saints series.
I loved reading these stories, full of adventures with God in remote parts of the world. I’m sure I was encouraged by their outrageous piety. Clearly they were God’s chosen ones. The stories told of how God chatted with them often sometimes from a distant cloud or echo of thunder, more intimately in their daily routines, and even in their night-time dreams.
These saints were simply too good to be true.
Then came the time when the simply childish goodness and purity of these plaster saints no longer matched the complexities and confusions of my own life.
It helped to learn that some of these saints had probably never existed anyway. I think I was happy to hear that since I could never be expected to live like someone who had never lived..
About that time I began to read more recent, well-researched, honest and open biographies of these holy people and learnt that many were rather dysfunctional, disordered and sometimes simply bad-tempered characters with many of the same flaws and foibles that are mine.
So I began to question: what is it to be a saint?
While the word saint refers to those who are fully in relationship with God in heaven, those named as saints by the church are those who are in heaven AND whose earthly lives revealed an inner life of intimacy with Jesus Christ.
Many people do great things for God. The world has many good people who keep the precepts of religion and are kind. But to be a saint on earth is to follow Jesus, even to and through the cross.
A saint understands that our ultimate desire is not to be magically relieved of every difficult situation and problematic person but to live every moment and every encounter in relationship with Jesus Christ.
This is the life of a saint, knowing our sinfulness, eating and drinking with sinners who are oriented in the depth of their hearts towards Jesus, knowing that while we stumble and fall on our journey towards him, He is running towards us reaching down to us, lifting us up, and holding us in embrace.
It’s a great life!
“The only real sadness,
the only real failure,
the only great tragedy in life,
is not to become a saint.”