Sunday, May 20, 2007


Sometimes you write, just as you speak, without knowing a thing about a topic. Well, here I am. You've been warned.

"The only tragedy in life is not to be a saint." - Léon Bloy

What does it mean to be a saint? Most of the epistles of the New Testament could be summarized as follows:

Salutation: To the saints in Christ Jesus who are in [Philippi], grace and peace.

Body: Be ye saints.

Valediction: The grace of the Lord Jesus be with your spirit.

So in Christ we are already saints. But we are also becoming saints. We are commanded to be saints; it is God's will for us. The Orthodox have a wonderful picture of this process: God is fire and we are swords. As the sword is placed in the fire, it takes on the properties of the fire - it becomes like the fire - but it does not become fire. So we do not become God, but, as St Peter says, we become sharers in His divine life.

Some of us cringe hearing the word saint. We can think of a dozen or more reasons why we would not want to be one. But we cringe because most of the "saints" we've seen are not saints, but only sinners masked, marching around in stiff, binding clothes. And they demand that you be just like them. But saints are not wooden people in too-starched clothes, but men and women like Teresa of Calcutta. Their eyes are clear and bright. They don't walk around like Charlton Heston as he comes off his burning-bush trip with souped-up staff in hand, who does not even see his wife. Hell no. Instead, they are the most present people in our world, the most attentive, the most involved. They are full of joy. The only thing they may fail to see is themselves.

Now the Catholic Church canonizes saints. That means there are some people she knows who are in heaven through whatever means happen to be at her disposal. She officially declares someone a Saint. Anyone to whom she gives the title Saint is someone she "knows" is in heaven. All who are in heaven, of course, are saints - of the kind that the Church canonizes. And there are millions who have never been canonized by the Church but are still in the presence of God. Your dear old grandma. Your infant child. Your friend or relative who suffered through and struggled with the pain of breast cancer until her death. These are people who may indeed be in the presence of God, but are simply unknown to the Church. The Church does not make people saints by canonization, but only recognizes God's finished work in them. (Though, perhaps, part of the canonization process involves the Church's authority to bind and loose - I don't know.)

This issue is complex to explain to some because of their rejection of the theology behind it. They reject (1) the existence of a state of being that the Church calls Purgatory and (2) the authority of the Church. What they wouldn't reject, of course, is that there occurs after death some change in each of us to make us holy - with both the ability and the desire to always say No to anything contrary to God or His will for us.

So, yes, to discuss the Church's canonization of Saints, and what it means to be a saint, there is the issue of our cleansing to wade through. But perhaps I'll leave that for another time.

- to be continued -

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