Sunday, November 1, 2009

Being a Saint

In honor of All Saint's Day, I wanted to spend a moment reflecting on what it means to be a saint. Christians don't really agree on what the qualifications of sainthood are. In order for someone to be canonized as a saint in the Catholic Church, for example, that person must be recognized as having been "heroic in virtue" and have at least one miracle attributed to him or her. Some Christians use the term 'saint' to refer to anyone whose faith they deem exemplary, and others use it as a blanket term for all believers. Colloquially, many people call people of uncommon kindness, patience, or generosity saints.

In the absence of a universal definition of sainthood, I've decided to make my own short list of some of the qualities that I think a saint should have. (Maybe if you have a few minutes today, you'd like to try the same exercise yourself.)
  • Kindness. I think that saints should be nice people. They should be eager to help others and slow to get angry. I think that a saint would be the kind of person it feels good to be around, someone you can trust. Saints will be gentle when they criticize others, offering constructive tips instead of condemning judgments. Even when they're dealing with difficult problems, saints are still able to focus on the love they have for others, even troublemakers and sinners.
  • Humility. I think that saints are probably people who really want to be saints but don't think that they measure up. They want to do good and to serve God, but they are vividly aware of their own shortcomings. They know that it is through God's grace and not their own merit that they are able to make a difference in the lives of others, and they aren't self-righteous or holier-than-thou. They stand up for what they believe in, but they do it as a loving friend and peer, not as an overbearing authority.
  • Self-Sacrifice. I think that many of us picture saints as people who live cloistered lives dedicated to the church and separate from the rest of the world. That idea is a bit extreme, but I do think that saints have to be willing to give up many things of the world in order to focus on the things of God. Self-sacrifice is a recognition that something else is just as important (maybe even more important) that the self, and saints understand how essential it is to focus on God's work even if it costs them a lot to do it.
  • Enduring faith. We may look at the people that we call saints and think that they never have any moments of doubt or struggles of conscience, but they do. Everyone does. What makes saints special is that they don't give up when their faith lives are hard. When God feels distant, they reach out the best way they can. When they are faced with painful situations, they tell God how hurt they are and pray that He will somehow make it right. When they are angry with God, they let Him know how they feel but they don't give up on the relationship. When they do wrong, they ask for forgiveness and try to move forward in God's grace. Saints aren't perfect, but they struggle on even in the midst of their imperfections.
I don't really care if anyone ever calls me a saint, but I do want to grow in the qualities I've listed here because I want to be a good and faithful servant of God. I want to make a positive difference in the lives of others, and I want to have a close relationship with God. I don't need accolades because I know that righteousness is its own reward. Every stride I take towards being the kind of person I've described above (even though I'm far from the goal) makes me feel more joyful inside. Everyone may not have the same idea of what a saint is, but I still think we all have the potential to be one. With God's help, all of us are capable of doing great things. Just knowing that I have the potential to be a saint is an incredible blessing.

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