Tuesday, November 1, 2016

A Genuine Saint

November 1, 2016 Today is All-Saint's Day, wherein the Church traditionally honors those who have died during the past year. All Hallow's Eve, or Halloween, as we have come to know it, has pagan roots in which the spirits of the dead were placated by "treats" so as to avoid them playing "tricks" on the living. The Church took this pagan festival of darkness and the macabre, and transformed it into a Christian celebration of lives lived in and through the light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, humanity being what we are, whenever and wherever the Gospel begins to lose its grip on the common life of a society, the Christian celebration begins to wane as the old paganism rises zombie-like from its all-too shallow cultural grave. Halloween in America today almost rivals Christmas in decorations, festivities, and attention, which gives place for somber thought as we consider how religious Christmas observation is under attack in our secular culture. But I digress. The word "saint" has many connotations. In the apostle Paul's letters, he addresses even the most backslidden followers of Christ as "saints." The Corinthian Christians barely demonstrated any Christian virtues whatsoever, yet he calls them saints. The word in this context simply means those who profess to be followers of Christ. Over time, the term became constricted so as to refer only or primarily to those who exhibited such extraordinary Christian character that they were canonized by the Church and given the title "Saint" So and So. We still use this designation when we refer to Saint Peter or Paul, or to the post-apostolic leaders of the Church, such as Saint Augustine or Saint Beatrice. Rarely do we use the term to describe or identify ordinary Christians, but once in awhile, it is particularly fitting to do so. This afternoon, I had the distinct pleasure of sitting in the company of one of God's local saints. She would blush to hear me use this word of her, but it is true. She hasn't performed any miracles of which I am aware (one of the determinants of official sainthood), but there is no doubt in my mind as to the extraordinary Christian character she displays. She witnesses to everyone she meets, and even if someone is hard to love, she manages to do so. She has seen her share of sorrow, borne her portion of pain and suffering, all without rancor, bitterness, or regret. She doesn't get around much anymore; her failing eyesight sees to that, but she is a missionary in her own home, loving those who come to see her, and never failing to try to direct their feet in the ways of Christ. A young person can live a holy life; the movers and shakers in the Christian world are often in their thirties or forties. They make a big splash, live large and faithfully share the Gospel. The Church and the world would be poorer without them, but to my mind, they don't quite make the grade as saints, for one simple reason: It takes a lifetime for God to mold a saint. There is still too much work to be done when we are in our fourth, fifth, or even sixth decade. A genuine saint takes time, which may be why there are so few of them. I had the privilege of sitting with one this All-Saint's Day, and was greatly blessed and am deeply thankful for my friend, Saint Jane Green.

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