We are called to be Saints
A saint is one who is truly united with the Lord. He lives his life in union with him by believing in his heart what the Lord has promised: ‘Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them’
By Dr Babu Joseph Karakombil SVD
I would like to begin this reflection on the importance of saints in the Catholic Church by quoting from St Paul’s letter to the Romans where he says that we are called to be saints (Rom 1:7). Every believer in the Lord Jesus Christ is called to be sanctified and therefore set apart for Christ and his kingdom.
This is possible for us only when we receive a call from God and as humans we respond to it by living a life worthy of that call. The Catholic Church has always valued the life of saints and she has presented them as models of holiness to the universal church.
The approach of the Church to saints is well expressed in the second Vatican council Document on the Church. For when we look at the lives of those who have faithfully followed Christ, we are inspired with a new reason for seeking the city which is to come (Heb 13:14; 11:10). At the same time we are shown a most safe path by which ... we will be able to arrive at perfect union with Christ that is holiness.
In the lives of those who shared in our humanity and yet were transformed into especially successfully images of Christ (2 Cor 3:18), God vividly manifests to men his presence and his face. He speaks to us in them, and gives us a sign of his kingdom, to which we are powerfully drawn, surrounded as we are by so many witnesses (Heb 12:1), and having such an argument for the truth of the gospel. (Council of Vatican II, On the Church, No. 50)
Sometimes it is said, erroneously though, that the Church makes saints. The truth is that the Church does not make anyone saint, but rather the she recognizes and endorses those whose lives have been exemplary in following the Christ and therefore have earned a place in heaven as well as in the hearts of the faithful. And besides there is also a rigorous process before the Church declares someone a saint worthy of public veneration.
What is most central to the Church’s endorsement of a person as saint is his Christian life and example. If the person has truly lived the message of Christ it will be reflected in his behavior and attitudes. It is not that a saint is totally a flawless person; he may have his limitations and yet his desire to rise above those limits and to live a life that is pleasing to the Lord is what truly matters.
We come across therefore many men and women who have witnessed to the living Lord in ways that are tough and quite demanding. The life of martyrs especially in the early church and even in our contemporary times goes to show the undiluted dedication of those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as their Lord and savior.
A saint therefore possesses some uncanny and extraordinary faith in the Lord Jesus Christ that serves as the bedrock of his everyday life. When we read the life stories of some saints we cannot but be awestruck by the tenacity of purpose and level of endurance in the most trying moments of their life.
As for instance, when St Lawrence, deacon and martyr in the early history of Christianity in Rome realized the Roman Emperor Valerian’s hatred for all Christians who owned property, he began to distribute his properties to the poor and encouraged other Christians to do the same.
This enraged the Emperor and Lawrence was put to death. However, through this supreme sacrifice Lawrence endeared himself to the Christians. It is believed that due to his eventful life, fearless work and sterling faith, many Romans joined him and became followers of Christ.
To be a saint is to live a life in imitation of Christ the Lord. In fact this is well expressed in a spiritual classic, The Imitation of Christ, authored by Thomas ? Kempis wherein he speaks of imitating Christ in our daily life as the surest way to the salvation.
The text is divided into four books, which provide detailed spiritual instructions: "Helpful Counsels of the Spiritual Life", "Directives for the Interior Life", "On Interior Consolation" and "On the Blessed Sacrament". If a Christian follows these guidelines in his spiritual journey he can certainly attain salvation. Kempis in his writings emphasizes much on the interior life of a believer.
A strong interior life is possible when one withdraws from the vanities of the world and he resists all temptations and distractions of life, giving up the pride of learning and to be humble, and patiently enduring the world's contempt and contradiction.
He goes on emphasize the need to build up a love for solitude, and to discern the will of God and to be open to follow that with total dedication. For the Lord says, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life and anyone who follows me will not walk in darkness but have the eternal life’(Jn 14:6). By believing and following the assurance of the Lord a believer receives internal consolation, and this is preeminently available in the sacrament of the Eucharist which is a source and summit of divine grace.
A saint is one who is truly united with the Lord. He lives his life in union with him by believing in his heart what the Lord has promised: ‘Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them’ (Jn14:23) God makes his dwelling in those who love him, and equip them to be his messengers amidst people.
The life of saints is a shining example of God’s choosing of his messengers and sending them out to spread his message of the arrival of his kingdom of love and fellowship. As for instance, take the life of Saint Damian of Molokai in Hawaii Islands who volunteered to cater to the leprosy patients.
Those affected with leprosy were driven away from their homes and isolated in Molokai Island to fend for themselves as there was no cure for this dreaded disease. No one was willing to risk their life and therefore those leprosy patients were deprived of any medical or even simple human care. In such a trying situation saint Damian volunteered to move into Molokai and he nursed the leprosy patients, eventually to die of the same disease. Only a man with stupendous faith could take a conscious decision to abandon himself to the welfare of other human beings.
A true saint is called to witness to the Lord and his kingdom. This is well expressed in Jesus’ command to his disciples in the Acts of the Apostles, "You shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." (Acts 1:8) True witnessing is possible only when one is wholly Christ centered, all one’s energies, time and resources are focused on Christ.
Being with Christ is a joyful experience, and it is this unique experience of communion with the Lord prompts one to fearlessly witness to him in all circumstances of life. While it may be relatively easy to witness to the Lord in peaceful times, it takes great courage to witness to him in demanding times. As a matter of fact, one’s loyalty to Christ is tested in moments of trials and tribulations.
A saint is one who, as St Paul would say, lives Christ in all moments of his life. ‘I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.’(Gal 2:20). It is therefore a total identification with the Christ who has given a new life free from the bondage of sin and slavery. A true witness to Christ proclaims his faith through his own life example. In short his life is his witness.
A saint is a model for authentic Christian life. Since a saintly person attempts to live the life of faith focused on Christ, his life becomes an example for others to emulate. Take the case of Saint Teresa of Kolkata who came to be known to the world as saint of the poorest of the poor. Her life was a shining example of true Christian charity. She totally trusted in the providence of God especially when she faced challenges of every sort she did not falter but relied on him, and found solace.
If not for her unflinching faith in the Lord she would not have done what she did in her lifetime. In a revealing incident, when a visitor to one of her homes for the destitute remarked that he would not have done what she was doing even if he was paid a million Dollar, she responded saying that she also wouldn’t have done for a million Dollar either except that she was moved by Christ’s redeeming love.
She always used to say that she saw Jesus’ face in every human being especially the poor and forsaken. Because of her exemplary life for others, truly Christian in substance, she was much regarded all over the world as an icon of true human spirit.
A saint is an intercessor for Christians. Sometimes question is asked if we need saints as intermediaries. Can we not pray directly to God? Yes, we can pray to God directly; no one stands in the way that leads to God. But that does not rule out other possibilities for human beings to reach God, such as through the intercession of saints.
Saints are the ones who have attempted to live a life of faith on earth and have successfully completed their earthly journey and are now in the heavenly presence of the risen Lord. Their example and continued communion with every follower of Jesus is therefore valuable. Veneration of saints also influences us in our quest for leading a righteous life on earth in the hope of attaining heavenly glory that the risen Lord has promised.
St Paul puts it succinctly ‘And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.’ (Col 1:9-12)
Each one of us is called to be saints. And our true model is Lord Jesus Christ who taught us how to live our lives meaningfully. And saints are the ones who understood this call and tried to live their Christian life modeled after the Christ. To live a saintly life we do not have to be extraordinary beings, we simply need to be ordinary human beings whose gaze is fixed on God.
It is St Theresa of Lisieux who once said that God must be loving ordinary people more because he has created so many of them. And St Theresa is a model of Christian holiness because of the simplicity and practicality of her approach to the spiritual life. Spiritual life is not very complex as sometimes it is made out to be; it is simple and practical as St Theresa has shown in her life. It is one’s ability to do ordinary things with extraordinary love and devotion in it.
Holy Father Pope Francis has given the Church the Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate (“Rejoice and be glad”) on the call to holiness in today’s world. Today’s world is very much in need of holiness as it seeks to distance itself ever more from God, and the Pope proposes a way of holiness for everyone. And I think this reflection of the Pope is quite relevant for each one of us. We are all called to holiness since God has loved each one of us and we should love him in return. And for this we need not retreat from the world; we can find and love God right here in our living context. God has given us through the Church all the means we need to grow in holiness. We need not look for extraordinary events of life to find and love God but through the most ordinary activities of each day we come closer to him.
(Dr Babu Joseph Karakombil SVD taught philosophy, authored a couple of books, published many articles in scholarly journals, magazines and news papers, worked as spokesperson of Madhya Pradesh Catholic Church for 3 years and later as national spokesperson of the CBCI, New Delhi for 9 years, served as the Executive Council member of Central University of Kerala for 6 years and also member of the same University Court for 3 years. Currently working at Indore as Director of Satprachar Press.)
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