More of the saints

Monday Reflection

2nd November 2020

'some was quite enlightening'

While researching for yesterday's sermon
I came across a vast amount
of information about saints,
some was quite enlightening,
many amusing.

When we think about 'All Saints Day',
we may call to mind
our favourite patron saints:
jolly old St. Nicholas;
St. Anthony, who helps us find things
(and people) that are lost;
St. Christopher who keeps us safe
when we travel;
St. Valentine, inspirer of romance;
and St. Jude,
the patron of lost causes -
popular, I think, with many of us!

Some of you
with a more high church background,
may have grown up with little statues,
pictures or cards;
others may have necklaces,
perhaps a rosary,
bracelets or other charms,
with the idea that the saints
somehow have the power to inspire,
guide and protect us along life's way,
because they are thought
to have the 'ear' of God
in a special way.

In the past few years,
many of the legends of the old saints
have been re-examined
and found to be wanting.
Indeed, it has been suggested
some of them
never actually existed at all.

There are saints, though,
who certainly were real,
and whose lives still impact
on our own in significant ways.

The profound theological reflections
of St. Teresa of Avila
and St. John of the Cross,
for example,
still influence our
spiritual journey today.

We not only remember them;
we also treasure the gifts
they have brought to Christian
spirituality over the centuries.

All Saints, however,
reminds us that there are many
who have never been officially canonized,
or have no individual days
in the church calendar.

'All Saints' speaks of those
who were not famous,
not remembered by everyone,
but whose lives and deeds
have nonetheless endured.

That's not to say for a moment
that all these people were perfect.
In fact, saints in general
have a strong track record
not only in being imperfect,
but in being decidedly odd!

Even the most famous figures
don't always fit our expectations
as to what makes a saint.

St. Peter himself hardly fits
the traditional image:
rash, impetuous,
prone to talk too much,
and to make promises
he couldn't keep.

And what about St. Paul?
How strange to devote your life
to killing Christians,
then suddenly see the light
on the Damascus Road,
and spend the rest of your life
making Christians.

And from what we read of Paul,
it seems he wasn't an easy person
to know or to please.

Then there's St. Augustine,
who lived on raw vegetables
and promiscuity for years
while famously praying,
'Lord, make me chaste -
but not just yet.'

Then he met God in a garden
and became the most inspired
theologian of the early
Christian centuries.

The offbeat stories of the saints
and what they inspired
doesn't stop there.

Devotees of St. Vitus
used to go in for a whole night
of wild dancing in chapel,
believing this would keep them
free from all ills
for the rest of the year:
Vitus became the patron saint
of dancers and comedians.

The third century saint,
Perpetua, along with her companions,
had many bizarre adventures
until she was finally
put to the sword after
being tossed by an infuriated cow!

One final story concerns
St. Simeon Stylites,
(4th-5th century AD),
probably best known for spending
37 years living on top of a pillar.

But another story goes,
that on a journey into town one day,
he found a dead dog on a dung heap.
He picked it up,
tied its leg to a rope round his waist,
and went through the streets
dragging the creature behind him.

He attached himself
to the local church
and during services threw nuts
at the clergy and blew out the candles.
Actually, Simeon
was of the type known
as the Holy Fool,
and there was at least
some method in his madness.

His strange behaviour
was a sort of acted-out sermon,
an indictment of what he saw
as the world's false
and foolish standards to show,
as St. Paul said,
that God chooses
the foolish things
of this world to shame
those who think themselves wise.
....... (1 Corinthians 1:27)

I don't know about you,
but I find the very human oddness
of many of the saints rather
more inspiring than visions
of ethereal figures in long,
white robes floating around
in a cloud of dry ice
(or incense!)
with a saccharine, pious,
look on their faces.

I feel I have more in common with
the oddities and the less famous
than the 'superstars'
of the Christian tradition.

But what we are all called to,
is an awareness
that we are made in God's image
to reflect the God
whose nature we meet in Jesus Christ.

Our own individual ways
of doing that are likely
to be smaller scale, quieter,
and often unrecognized.

But any act of helping someone
along the journey of life;
any deed of making other people
and their welfare, -
rather than our own, -
the centre of our focus;
any willingness
to take time to listen;
to show of understanding;
to forgive and seek after
any act of speaking up
for those who cannot speak
for themselves;
any moves to establish peace
and justice on even the smallest,
local scale - in short,
any act of love -
is what makes a saint.

It's not about unreal piety,
or excessive devotion.
It's about being essentially human,
and living with humanity
towards one another.

All Saints' Day
is a commemoration of great saints,
but it is also to remember
the nameless saints.

Dead or alive,
the saints are among us;
they touch our lives every day.
We've no doubt encountered
a number of them in our lives,
perhaps only realising it
when we look back in hindsight.

As we honour the saints,
let us thank God that we, too,
in our very ordinariness,
are called to be part
of that great company
no one can number.