Saints are people too. . .
I am going to venture a guess that no one reading this reflection has their names in the index of the Oxford Dictionary of Saints. I’m going to also guess that none of my readers have their image and likeness preserved in stained glass in a cathedral or church somewhere. And since you are able to actually read this, I’m going to guess that none of you have previously suffered martyrdom.
The fact is, it’s hard for us to think of ourselves as saints isn’t it? It’s hard for us to think of ourselves as Holy and Sanctified. After all, many of us are not particularly pious or righteous, and besides, isn’t it true that we like to have too much fun to ever be considered for sainthood? It’s almost as though we have allowed Walt Disney Studios to dictate our definition of sainthood. Everybody knows that when saints hit their thumb with a hammer, they shout, “Glory to God in the Highest, and peace to God’s people on earth!” Everybody knows that when saints are cut off on the freeway, they raise their fists and make The Sign of the Cross.
The feast of All Saints, which we celebrate today, is ranked by the Book of Common Prayer right up there with Easter and Christmas! It is among the few weekday feasts that is transferable to a Sunday. But this isn’t the feast of some super hero of faith from the past. This isn’t the Feast of “A” saint. This is the Feast of ALL Saints. This is the feast day of EVERY SINGLE PERSON! No matter what our self-image may say to us, and no matter where we place ourselves on the scale of self-esteem, we are saints, each and every one of us. We have been declared holy by our God. It’s high time we started proclaiming it, celebrating it, and, yes, living up to it. If you don’t think you are holy, if you don’t think you are sanctified, if you don’t think there is something wonderfully special about you, please don’t tell that to the God who chooses to live within you! We are not saints because of the things we do for God, we are saints because of the things God has done in us!
I’m afraid the church has tended to be so so works-centered throughout history, that we tend to associate holiness with achievement. But when I read in Genesis that we are created in God’s image, and that God looked upon all God created and was very pleased, I don’t see anything there that any of us achieved to gain such favor. It was simply God’s choosing, and that is why Jesus can say so boldly in the Gospel of John: “You did not choose me, I chose you.”
Likewise, we are not removed from sainthood because of anything we might have done against God. As someone once wrote, “There are no saints without a past, and there are no sinners without a future.” “Sinner” is NOT the opposite of “Saint,” rather they go hand in hand, and that goes for St. Peter, and St. Paul, and St. Mary, and St. Elizabeth, and all the saints at the churches that we attend, and everywhere else in the world! We are not saints because of what we do or don’t do. We are not saints because of what we believe or disbelieve. We are saints because God has chosen to take us as part of God’s own self.
Saints are wonderfully human, not super human. Saints are wonderfully ordinary, not super extraordinary. As the famous Jesuit philosopher, Tielhard de Chardin once said: “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” If Jesus stands for anything, he stands for the undeniable fact that God has willfully and purposefully chosen and hallowed the human condition.
An old Zen Master once said, “Before I was enlightened, I chopped wood and carried water, but now that I’m enlightened, I chop wood and carry water.”
There is another story about a master who announced to the brothers in the order that a young monk had reached an advanced state of enlightenment. The news caused a stir in the monastery. Some of the members found the young monk and asked: “Is it true that you have reached enlightenment?”
“It is,” the young monk replied.
“And how do you feel now?” They asked.
“As miserable as ever,” replied the young monk.
I guess you could say, SAINTS ARE PEOPLE TOO. Sainthood does not deny our humanity, it acknowledges our humanity. It isn’t what you achieve, it’s what God has achieved in you that sanctifies you and makes you holy.
Now having said all this, it’s also true that we need only watch CNN or the film at 11 for a few minutes to know that we are fully capable of denying this holiness within us. We can abuse it and profane it, we can obscure God’s presence within us to where it is nearly invisible, but we cannot make it go away.
Fred Craddock tells the famous story of a time when he was visiting a small town in Tennessee on a short vacation one summer. He and his wife found a quiet little restaurant where they looked forward to a private meal, just the two of them. During dinner an elderly gentleman who had been visiting guests at various tables in the restaurant, approached them and broke their privacy. “Where are you folks from?” he asked.
“Oklahoma,” was the answer.
“What do you do?” he asked Craddock.
“I teach homiletics at the graduate seminary of Phillips University.”
“Oh, so you teach preachers do you. Well, have I got a story for you,” and with that he pulled up a chair and sat down at the couple’s table. The man reached out with his hand and introduced himself. “I’m Ben Hooper.” I was born not far from here across the mountains. My mother wasn’t married when I was born, so I had a hard time. When I started to school my classmates had a name for me, and it wasn’t a very nice name.
I used to go off by myself at recess and during lunch-time because the taunts of my playmates hurt so much. It was just as bad on the weekends when I would go downtown. I could feel every eye burning a hole through me. They all were wondering just who my real father was.
When I was about 12 years old, a new preacher came to our church. To avoid all the looks, I used to sneak into church late and slip out early. But one Sunday morning the preacher said the closing benediction so fast that I got caught, and I had to walk out with the crowd. Everyone was staring at me, as we made our way to the door. Suddenly, I felt a big hand on my shoulder. I looked up, and the preacher was looking straight at me.
“Who are you, son? Whose boy are you?”
It was the same thing all over again, I thought. Even the preacher was putting me down. The preacher didn’t say anything else for a while. He just stared at me, studying my face. And then he began to smile a big smile of recognition.
“Wait a minute,” he said, I know who you are. I see the family resemblance. You’re a son of God!”
With that, he slapped me on the back and said, “Boy, you’ve got a great inheritance. Go out and claim it.”
As old Ben stood up to take his leave of them, he said, “that was the most important single sentence ever spoken to me.”
And with that he shook their hands, and continued on to another table to greet old friends.
Craddock came to realize later that the Ben Hooper who told this story to him in that little restaurant was a former Governor of the State of Tennessee.
You are children of God. You are holy. You are saints. It’s high time we started proclaiming it, celebrating it, and, yes, living up to it. You have a great inheritance. Go out and claim it.
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