(It’s All Saints Day.)
The saints are always those who are able to do deeds of power—sometimes great things and sometimes very small things, but powerful works. Sometimes their mere presence creates blessing and peace. Goodness follows in their wake. They are like Jesus who “went about doing good” (Acts 10:38).
This goodness, though, easily deceives us. We see it in the beatific ones, and we assume that to emulate them we just need to be better. Do more good.
Most of us have tried that and ended up exhausted, disillusioned, cranky and bitter.
All the “goodness” we could muster was just our needy ego trying to achieve what can only be given as a gift and received as the same.
So, despite the haloed notion of sainthood, we have to keep saying it: the saints are those who finally recognized that their own “goodness” had to go in order for greatness to overtake them. They had to empty themselves. Get naked (St. Francis did it literally on the steps of the cathedral), hang on to nothing, let the “good” self die.
In other words, all the saints became the opposite of good. They recognized just how human and selfish and broken they really were, and by God that’s when, to the rest of us, they began to look almost super-human!
Paul. “I die daily” (I Cor. 15:31). “When I am weak then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10).
Mary. “He has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant . . . he has put down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of low degree” (Luke1: 48,53).
John the Baptizer. “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).
One of my colleagues, Jonathan Thomas, passed along these words of Soren Kierkegaard. “God creates out of nothing. Wonderful you say. Yes, to be sure, but he does what is still more wonderful: he makes saints out of sinners.”
He makes saints out of sinners, and only sinners.
If, as Leon Bloy said, “The only real sadness, the only real failure, the only great tragedy in life, is not to become a saint,” then we know where to start. Not by being better, but by waking up, gradually, to our own emptiness, allowing God to pour in and fill us.