Today the Catholic Church celebrates All Saints Day, a celebration of all of the Saints
Kenneth Woodward, former Newsweek religions editor, defined a saint as “someone through whom we catch a glimpse of what God is like – and of what we are called to be.”
One could say that we have all we need in Jesus to see what we are called to be. And there is truth to that: Jesus Christ incarnated was fully human and is, of course, the supreme example of human holiness. His heart was totally open to the gift of God’s love.
But while Jesus is the ultimate model for our lives, it is too easy for people to say (or at least think even if they don’t say it out loud) – “yeah, well easy for him – he was God after all. So of course it was easier for him than for me.” For all that we give lip service to our understanding that Jesus was fully human as well as fully divine, we all (at least a little bit) act as thought he had a leg up on us as a human because of his Godhood.
And that is where I think the saints are helpful to us. They serve as examples about whom we can’t say – oh well, he or she was God. No: He or she was human – just like us. These human beings heard Jesus’ call and followed it.
Saints provide examples to us, models, they can inspire us and give us strength for own journeys. The fact that those we called saints – flesh and blood humans like us – transcended their weaknesses means we can also. The idea is not to say, “oh well, she’s a saint – she’s special, not like us. But instead to say if he or she transcended their weakest parts to allow their better parts to shine, I can too.
But saints do more than model sin transcended. They also help us understand how God works in the lives of individuals. James Martin, in his wonderful book My Life with the Saints, writes:
Each saint was holy in his or her unique way, revealing how God celebrates individuality.” And he cites C.L. Lewis, who wrote in Mere Christianity, “How monotonously alike all the great tyrants and conquerors have been; how gloriously different are the saints. This gave me enormous consolation, for I realized that none of us are meant to be Therese of Lisieux or Pope John XXIII or Thomas More. We’re meant to be ourselves, and meant to allow God to work in and through our own individuality, our own humanity.
Remembering the saints also reminds us that we don’t go it alone, that there are others who have gone before us, who have faced what we face. Others whose companionship gives us strength for our own journey. Through the saints we come to meet individuals who had particular strengths we might want to emulate and who also had the same difficulties we struggled with. And that is a source of encouragement.
Blessings on this All Saints Day.