Sunday Homily - November 1, 2020 - What is a Saint?

Synaxis of All the Saints Icon


The Feast of All Saints
Revelation 7:9-17
Psalm 34:1-10, 22
1 John 3:1-3
Matthew 5:1-12

I.

What is it
 that makes a saint
  a saint?

After all,
 one of the biggest principle feasts in our Church calendar
  is indeed today's celebration of All Saints Day.
   Saints are really important,
    and the recognition of them is a huge day in the life of the Church.

But again,
 what is it exactly
  that makes a saint
   a saint?

Is a saint someone
 who lives a particularly good life?

I mean, one of the paragons of the virtuous life of charity
 is none other than St. Teresa of Calcutta,
  commonly known as "Mother Teresa."
   Mother Teresa is almost synonymous with the care of the poor,
    the deep self-sacrifice of herself on behalf of those who had no one else to care for them,
     and an incredible example of the goodness manifested in a real saint's life.

But is that all there is to it?
 To live a virtuous life?

Is a saint someone who the Church chooses as a saint,
 someone who the Church particularly likes
  and "elects" them based on popularity?

There are many people within the Church
 who could qualify as particularly liked people
  or particularly significant for various reasons. 
   Samuel Seabury, the first Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the U.S.
    is a particularly significant figure,
     and a vitally important bishop for us even today.

But again, is being a significant figure or a particularly liked person all that a saint is?

Is a saint someone who performs miracles in their lifetimes
 or through whom miracles have happened on behalf of their prayers?

We have many examples of miraculous things happening
 in the lives of the saints in the Bible,
  such as when St. Peter raised up the man who was lame all his life
   or when St. Paul healed people of their sickness.
    (c.f. Acts 3 and Acts 28).

But is miraculous healing a sign of sainthood?
 Or is it something else? 

After all,
 there are lots of people who we might say fit these descriptions
  but we might also concede wouldn't necessarily qualify them for sainthood.

There are many people who live "good" lives
 while not ever becoming followers of Jesus Christ.
  There are many virtuous people I know of,
   big names or even the person down the street,
    who live good lives,
     but who would also blanch at the idea of being considered a saint. 

There are also many people within history who have had significant contributions
 to the life of the world and even of the life of the Church
  who we wouldn't necessarily consider to be saints in the proper sense,
   such as Queen Elizabeth I or Albert Einstein.

Likewise, the presence of miraculous signs performed by someone
 doesn't necessarily make them saints,
  such as the easy example of Simon the Magician
   or the fortune teller slave girl that St. Paul met on his journeys.
    (c.f. Acts 8 and Acts 16)

So, what is it that makes a saint
 a saint?

II.

Well,
  we obviously recognize saints by a combination of the things we see above,
   such as the virtuous life,
    miraculous signs,
     and serving a particularly world-changing role in history.

However,
 what we must always remember
  is a saint,
   any saint,
    is someone who first and foremost has been called by God to be a saint
     and who desires Jesus Christ so much
      that the love of God within them indelibly transforms them into a saint. 

And in every saint of the church,
 we have three things,
  and these three things in abundance:
   1) Repentance
   2) Faith and love for Christ Jesus and the Church
   and
   3) a deep desire for holiness. 

First, Repentance.

Because one of the more fascinating criticisms of the Church's saints 
 in our contemporary context
  is a popular claim that saints aren't really that saintly when we look at their darker sides.
   How can someone be a saint when they get things so wrong,
    such as St. Augustine's sexual promiscuity in his youth,
     Martin Luther's intense self-flagellation of his body,
      or the curious case of St. Simeon Stylites,
       who chose to deny his flesh in such a way
        that he became a hermit who lived on top of a tall pillar.
         
(Yes, I'm not joking, Simeon lived on top of a pole.
 That's what the "stylites" means)

But what is totally missed by critics of a saints imperfect life
 is that what makes a saint
  is decidedly NOT that they were always perfect!
   Rather, it is in fact that the saints knew how deeply IMPERFECT that they were,
    and yet trusted so much in the grace of Jesus Christ
     that through repentance of their sins
      their lives became conduits for Christ's righteousness through them
       and not their own righteousness.

St. Augustine knew how utterly screwed up he was,
 and yet in the Confessions,
  St. Augustine over and over again extolls God for his indescribable mercy and grace
   of which he was utterly unworthy. 

Because saints aren't saint because they are sinless.
 Saints are saints because of their deep repentance 
  and turning to Jesus in faith and love as their Lord and Savior. 

Which brings us to 2):
 Faith and Love for Christ and the Church. 

Just like we heard from Jesus Christ Our Lord
 in the past few weeks,
  the two greatest commandments are the deep and all-encompassing
   love of God
    and
     love of our neighbor as ourselves. 

But the outcome of that love of God and neighbor
 is not just in the actions that we take on behalf of God and neighbor.
  It is a deep interior trust and love OF God and neighbor as well. 
   Because that deep faith and love of Christ
    is the animating power of God
     that inevitably propels our hearts toward God and neighbor. 

And in this movement toward God and neighbor,
 we have 3) a deep desire for holiness.

And this is where the Beatitudes that Jesus gives to us in our Gospel passage
 become centrally important
  in a saint's earthly pilgrimage.

And these beatitudes are not just a nice description
 of nice people.
  Rather, these words of Our Lord
   are what we are to strive for
    with all of our might,
     because the deep desire for the holiness of these Beatitudes
      will ultimately draw us even deeper to the unsearchable love of God for us. 

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