In this world, we have a propensity to put people on pedestals. Following leaders, idolising stars, styling ourselves after someone famous, and in the most extreme cases having a hero.
Much of this thinking comes from needing to belong. And we see it in many people, whether they subscribe to a particular political party or even a football team. And we know what it’s like: even when that party or team is doing very badly, theres no changing the minds of those stalwart supporters. That is the colour they wear, the brand they have chosen, the group that makes them tick.
But what about Catholics? Yes, we too have a portfolio, as it were, of heroes. They are our saints, those who have navigated the world and made their lives into a search for the God of love. The saints show us how many ways there are to enter the Kingdom of heaven. There are as many ways as there are people. And so, the life of a particular Saint who has gone before us suggests itself to be conducive to our life: St Francis perhaps, or Saint Bernard, or St Therese of Lisieux. Something chimes in our heart when we read about that Saint. And we hold them to ourselves as a motivational mirror. To some it is one, to others another.
When we look back at our inbuilt need to belong to a tribe, an association, a person, a brand, there is a slight warning for we who revere saints. There is a danger that we might make a saint into ‘our football team’, our ‘best friend’, our ‘invisible friend’, in other words, someone who we can shoehorn into our existing lives without really challenging us, without really changing very much ourselves.
So, we need to look at our interaction with the saints in a more realistic, more fruitful way. We might perhaps balance three thoughts together. The first: that we revere that saint because of what they represent, because of their unadulterated love for God, their specific vocations as nurses or feeders of the poor or theologians, depending on what attracts us most. The Second: that we can use this in our own lives to challenge us and push us. And this pushing is often a painful process and allayed to the Cross. To put it another way: what do we take from that Saint to make our lives more holy, more God-centred? The third: that sanctity is deeply linked to this side of the grave, that it is right here in this messy and difficult and beautiful world where saints are born.
To put it more succinctly, whilst we use these saints as our beacons towards living for Christ, our lives are not their lives. What we take from the life of a saint has the capacity to make us saints, too… But not carbon copies of the Saint we revere. Saints are not, as it was once said, made at the plaster cast factory. They are instead made in that exquisite relationship between you and God, as he refines you, builds you into his image.
God builds us into his image through the prism of the saints… They are our compass, our guide. Sanctity can often be viewed as a thing of dusty history books written in flowery nineteenth century devotional speak. But no: sanctity is here now, it is knocking on our door and willing us towards the wedding feast. So let us use the traditions of our Church – the women and men who went before us – as our inspiration, as we seek that feast, calling upon the saints for their protection, their guidance, along the way. Amen.