Sunday, November 1, 2020

On Sainthood

     “You have to be a very good, and usually very dead person to become a saint. And more importantly, you need to work three miracles.” – Val Kilmer as Simon Templar, in The Saint

     I wanted to take today off from this dive. I could use the rest. However, the urge to write something appropriate to the day – All Saints’ Day, if you haven’t noticed – kept recurring, and it was growing stronger with each recurrence. So here goes.

     There was once a chessplayer and writer by the name of Franz Gutmayer. Gutmayer wasn’t a very good player. Oh, he probably could have beaten me eight or nine games out of ten, but then, I’m not a very good player either. At any rate, he took it upon himself to write a book titled How to Become a Chess Master. It wasn’t terribly popular, and was castigated by the great players of the day for its advice.

     The most notable thing about this book is that Gutmayer was not a master and never earned the title. How shall we regard one who seeks to instruct us in doing something he cannot do himself? I wouldn’t take his teachings very seriously, would you?

     But I’ve just remembered that I’m here to talk about sainthood. So here’s my question for today: If you’re a serious Christian – i.e., one who tries his best to live by that faith – would you presume to instruct others in how to earn sainthood?

     Sainthood, be it remembered, means “only” admission to heaven and the existing communion of the saints. Yes, there are famous, officially canonized saints, but their distinction from other saints is their recognition by us who still wear the flesh. The humblest completely unknown peasant who lived a worthy life and has been admitted to heaven is just as much a saint as Thomas Aquinas, Francis Xavier, Therese Martin, Elizabeth Seton, or Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

     I wouldn’t dare to try to teach others such a thing. I’m not a saint myself, being alive and ambling about this ball of rock. Having not yet been granted the title, to imagine that I could teach others how to attain it would be an act of the most atrocious arrogance. But here’s the Ace kicker: I would say the same thing about anyone else, be he Pope or paperboy, who dares to claim that he could teach you how to achieve sainthood.

     So when I encountered the following: neck hair rose. Did this Ghezzi fellow write his book while he was still alive, or did he dictate it to a medium after his death? What’s that you say? He’s still alive? Then he’s not yet a saint – so how could he possibly know how to become one?

     All that having been said, there is an Authority on the subject – we call him the Christ – whose recommendations can be followed with confidence. But I wouldn’t advise you to trust the prescriptions of any lesser figure.

     All Saints’ Day is the Catholic holy day on which we celebrate all saints — sainthood itself, if you will – including those whose names we the living do not and cannot know. There are probably many millions of saints; the annals of official canonization include only a couple of thousand. So on this day each year, we celebrate not only the famous ones the Vatican has already certified, but the far more numerous ones whose names and lives we know nothing about. The ones who never wrote a book. The ones who never preached a sermon. The ones, dare I say it, who never learned of Jesus of Nazareth and His New Covenant.

     For the Redeemer Himself has told us:

     When he saw the crowds, he went up the mountain. After he sat down his disciples came to him. Then he began to teach them by saying:
     “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
     “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
     “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
     “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
     “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
     “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
     “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.
     “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
     “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you and say all kinds of evil things about you falsely on account of me. Rejoice and be glad because your reward is great in heaven, for they persecuted the prophets before you in the same way.”

     [Matthew 5:1-12]

     And indeed, the Church recognizes at least one saint who lived a thousand years before Christ:

     St. Deborah (11th c. B.C.) was a godly widow and saint of the Old Testament. She was a courageous prophetess and champion of the Israelites. All Israel came to her to judge their disputes, and God prophesied to Israel through her. She was Israel's only female judge. Her role as the military leader who defended the Israelites is commemorated in the Bible's "Song of Deborah." It was her military counter-attack against Sisera at Mount Tabor that successfully delivered Israel's enemies into their hands. As prophetess, she foretold that Israel would have peace for 40 years following this victory. St. Ambrose and St. Jerome observed that St. Deborah is a good role model for the encouragement of courageous, godly women. Her feast day is November 1st.

     So: We have the Redeemer’s statements on the subject, and the examples of the known, canonized saints. Good teachings and good examples to study! But I advise you to treat the living who presume to instruct you in how to achieve sainthood as persons of dubious authority. Unless they’ve met or exceeded the grandmaster norm in at least two qualifying tournaments, that is. And may God bless and keep you all!

1 comment:

Ed Bonderenka said...

I think part of the problem here is the definition of the word "saint".
Paul write "Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus:"
Was he writing to dead people? What good would his advice be at that point?
Saints are those who are "set apart". Sanctified.
This is something God does to us and we do ourselves.
He takes us and we separate ourselves.