(“But Jesus looked at them and said, ‘For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.’” Matthew 19:26)
There was a man of venerable life, blessed by grace, and blessed in name, for he was called "Benedictus"[i] or Benedict. From his younger years, he always had the mind of an old man; for his age was inferior to his virtue. All vain pleasure he despised, and though he was in the world, and might freely have enjoyed such commodities as it yields, yet he esteemed it and its vanities as nothing.
Thus beginneth Gregory the Great’s prologue to The Life and Miracles of Saint Benedict, otherwise known as Book II of the Dialogues of Saint Gregory.[ii] From the sound of it, our father Benedict was a natural born saintly guy, holy from the womb. Cheater.
Not all of us are so gifted. I take much consolation in knowing that a whole bunch of the folks who have made it through the canonical hoops to canonization did not exactly have the saintliest of credentials. Among them are an exceptional amount of curmudgeons, cranks, criminals (reformed, we hope), ne’er-do-well’s and jokesters. Some were even timid and doubtful about their vocations. And more than a few would have been judged in the eyes of the world to be abject failures at even the holiest of their endeavors. In short, they did not all seem to have the divine imprimatur from their younger years. (There’s hope for us yet!)
A Reader’s Digest review of this latter bunch calls me to question my bias regarding what it means to be a saintly sort. It looks something like this: an even-tempered demeanor, unfailingly hospitable, sage words, Über pious, and magnificent deeds of sacrifice and service. Not just some of these qualities, mind you. All of them. All the time. In one package. Yikes. I don’t know about you but I can only hit one or two of those qualities for about six minutes on my best day, much less every blessed day of my life.
But as mentioned previously, not all saints look alike. So if being a “saint” is not about having The Total Package of Goodness, what is it? Just this: The common denominator of every woman, man and child who has ever attained the title of “Saint This or That” is the seeking of God with their whole being, no holds barred, nothing kept in reserve in case the gig didn’t work out.
If you don’t think you’re up to such a thorough-going standard, you’re right. You aren’t up to the task. You can’t make yourself into a saint no matter how hard you try. Only God can make a saint. And God would love to do just that with each and every one of us. Really. No kidding. (Trust me….I’m a theologian.) All we have to do is open the door and let Love come in. But don’t forget to leave the windows open, too, so that Love can go out from us in return.
I’d like to go on a bit about the gospel reading from this morning’s Lauds—it’s Peter’s snippy question to Jesus (“Look, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” Matt 19:27) and Jesus’ reply about leaving kith and kin in exchange for eternal life. I won’t, though, because
a) The passage cries out for a full on sermon. (I might get preachy but that doesn’t make me a preacher.)
b) My soap box is being remodeled and is out of commission at the moment. (I’m having it carpeted.)
c) I need to head out the door and go be with some blessed folks in person. (Feast days are best celebrated with good food and better company.)
So let me leave you with a few questions, instead: What does holy look like to you? Would you like that image to be you someday? If not, why not? If so, what’s holding you back...or better...what part of you are you holding back from God? Whatever it is, let it go, loved ones, let it go. Trust our gracious Lord to make of you what you have been made to be, namely, a great saint of God.
You are in my prayers.
Grace be with you,
[i] Benedictus is Latin for “blessed.” Even the greatest saints aren’t above a little happy word play now and then.