Apart from Sundays throughout the year which celebrate the resurrection of Christ, the Church also marks days throughout the year remembering the saints. Last Tuesday – January 28 – was the festival day of St. Thomas Aquinas, who lived in the 13th century. Thomas is honored as a Doctor of the Church, for his work as a theologian who drew from philosophy as well as Scripture to expound the faith.
Another Doctor of the Church is St Teresa of Avila, who died in 1582. She was a Spanish nun whose deep faith drew her to the religious and contemplative life, where she experienced visions and heard voices. She lived during a time of social, artistic and religious change, and often found herself in conflict with the church authorities. She founded monasteries and wrote a number of influential books on the interior life, which are still in print today. Her watchwords were “All things pass” and “All, without God, is nothing.” Teresa’s saint day is on October 15.
The word Saint – in Latin Sanctus, in Greek hagios – means hallowed or consecrated. The early Christians saw themselves as a community of holy people, a people set apart to receive God’s revelation of himself in the person of Jesus Christ. St Paul writes to the church at Colossae, where “the word of God has been revealed to his saints” and to the church in Rome, whom he describes as “beloved of God: chosen saints”. He also sends a greeting to “all the saints of Christ Jesus who are in Philippi”.
The best saints are, in my view, those who quietly yet firmly carry out the Lord’s will. Saints challenge our current culture, because a true saint carries out Jesus’ command to “deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24) To be a saint means to deny yourself the world’s approval, not to seek after honor, and to be wholly the servant of others. This strategy sounds like madness, and it is, but to a saint this “divine madness” makes perfect sense, because it closely follows the pattern of Jesus’ own self-giving.
The secret to becoming a saint – and we are all of us called to become saints – is to have a loving heart. However, that in itself won’t be enough. You also need the gift of the Holy Spirit. In the gospel of John Chapter 14 Jesus tells his disciples “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.” When you ask for and receive the Holy Spirit, in humility and dependence, then you are on the way to becoming a saint.
Be aware that there are many enemies of sainthood, and chief among them is pride. “If I am a saint, that makes me better than you!” If that’s what you want, my advice is to give up now. The monk and spiritual writer Thomas Merton had this insight:
“The saints love their sanctity not because it separates them from the rest of us and places them above us, but because, on the contrary, it brings them closer to us and in a sense places them below us.”
Saints are people of prayer, and St Thomas Aquinas wrote one which is very simple and to the point.
Most loving Lord, grant me
a steadfast heart which no unworthy desire may drag downwards;
an unconquered heart which no hardship may wear out;
an upright heart which no worthless purpose may ensnare.
Impart to me also, O God,
the understanding to know you,
the diligence to seek you,
a way of life to please you,
and a faithfulness that may embrace you,
through Jesus Christ my Lord.
May you be a blessing to the world.