Sunday, February 22, 2015


Saints come in all shapes and sizes. St Paul called members of the body of Christ - Saints. So, we know he did not have perfection in mind because he also did not mince words when he described the very real qualities of the body of Christ he knew and worked with. We have this myth of sainthood. This fantasy idea of what we think a saint should be. A saint should be someone who stands out for his or her spiritual life. A saint should be revered for his sainthood. She should be saintly, an icon of the Christian life. He should be on a pedestal often a pastor, missionary or full time Christian servant of some kind. Mother Theresa comes to mind although she would have been the first to deny that status which is a saintly quality. Saints are best known from a distance because familiarity tends to diminish sainthood. Saints are human and that is where we have the most trouble. It is hard to hold our ideas of sainthood when we have to deal with real human beings. Humans are human and we don't always get it right. I am thinking of Frederick Buechner's memorable portrait of the 12th century saint, Godric. Like St Augustine, Godric was aware of his sins and sought penance for them. On the isle of Farne he encounters the Holy Man, Cuthbert, who hears his confession and pronounces his forgiveness and prays for him. Even though Godric claims he heard no call, and came to Farne by chance - Cuthbert knows of Godric's calling. "Godric, your sins are forgiven thee, go now and do good for there is no good a man does in this world, however small, but bears sweet fruit though he may never taste of it himself."

The film, St Vincent, stars Bill Murray as a Godric type saint. He does good while looking bad. People misjudge him all the time and the boy he babysits after getting to know him says, "you are a sad, sad, man." You wouldn't know Vin was a saint by looking and he would not ever say he was aspiring to be one. Yet, by the end of the film, you might find yourself rethinking your ideas of sainthood.

Tonight Hollywood awards itself with it's idea of the best of it's business. We like this idea of awarding ourselves for the best in all areas of life. We do it in sports, and business and we even try to do it in the Church. We make saints out of humans and we put those we honor for spiritual greatness on pedestals. But, there is something about saintliness that is hard to pin down. We might know it when we see it but we might just as easily miss it. It is hard to be humble and know it. We admire Mother Theresa but she knew her spiritual struggles and we might have too if we had served with her. The point may be that she chose obscurity and our admiration of her saintliness did not seem to change her.  "Be content with obscurity, like Christ... none of this going off and doing your own thing... and put on love, it is your all purpose garment. Never be without it", The Message, Colossians 3.

Buechner defines a saint this way: "In God's holy flirtation with the world, God occasionally drops a handkerchief. These handkerchiefs are called saints." They are not easily seen. We are too likely to judge by appearances and first impressions. They are not seeking the limelight. They may not even be aware of what they are doing. Their clothes may be out of fashion even shabby but as you get to know them they are wearing love.

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