Who deserves the title of Sainthood?
I don’t know about you, but sometimes, I struggle with those bestowed the title of being a “saint”. It’s easy to consider St. Francis of Assisi, St. Clare (his friend whose name I LOVE), St. Benedict, St. Augustine, St. Patrick, St. Valentine, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Joan of Arc, St. Nicholas, and Mary, the Mother of Jesus, who is considered the greatest of all Christian saints. There are some who certainly deserve the title but whom we also remember for their imperfections (such as denying Jesus like St. Peter) and it’s hard for anyone to argue with the title being bestowed on a more modern day saint, Teresa of Calcutta. The Catholic Church has a canonization process to declare folks as holy enough to serve as examples for us; the faithful who strive to live in the Kingdom of God now and see its fulfillment in Heaven. But sometimes, this sainthood title gets thrown around more loosely.
Have you ever been to a funeral and wondered if the pastor was talking about the same person that you knew, before they went on to become a part of the “communion of saints”? I have. (I won’t mention any names, but seriously, I have.) I bet you have too. Depending on which definition you use for saint, in addition to those recognized through the canonization process, one can be referring to “spirits of the departed in heaven”, “God’s chosen” or “one eminent for piety or virtue”. I suppose that most of us could fall into the saint category accidentally, on occasion at least. On All Saints Sunday, we celebrate all the “saints” who have departed in the past year. We assume (or hope?) that they all deserve being called such.
I love the way that Nadia Bolz-Weber talks about saints in her recent book called Accidental Saints: Finding God in all the Wrong People. Nadia describes walking in Denver and noticing a sizable memorial of sorts in the courtyard of a large, weird-looking church across the street from the Colorado capitol building. The inscription read “Alma White, founder of the Pillar of Fire Church, 1901.” Since Nadia didn’t know of many women who had set out to start churches all by themselves (as she had also personally done), she was excited to discover that Alma was the founder of the Pillar of Fire Church, later becoming the first female bishop in the United States. She was also noted for her feminism. Unfortunately, she was also noted for her association with the Ku Klu Klan, her anti-Catholicism, anti-Semitism, anti-Pentecostalism, racism, and hostility to immigrants. Nadia had hoped to categorize Alma as a “hero” and “role model”, instead learned that she was a lousy racist. Just one more broken person of God.
Nadia reminds us that on All Saints’ Sunday, and every day, we are stuck with the reality that all around us are saints who were bad and sinners who were good. She reminds us that through her experience, what makes us the saints of God is not our ability to be saintly but rather God’s ability to work through sinners. Thanks be to God for such an amazing grace!
Abundant peace y’all,
If you would like to print or share this edition of Claire…ification, you are encouraged to use this pdf: Claire-ification 09.15.2015