Sunday Homily - November 1, 2020 - What is a Saint?
Synaxis of All the Saints Icon
The Feast of All Saints
Psalm 34:1-10, 22
1 John 3:1-3
What is it
that makes a saint
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.
what is it exactly
that makes 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?
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
we obviously recognize saints by a combination of the things we see above,
such as the virtuous life,
and serving a particularly world-changing role in history.
what we must always remember
is a 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:
2) Faith and love for Christ Jesus and the Church
3) a deep desire for holiness.
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
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.