Typically on All Saints day we celebrate and remember the saints who have died over the past year. Some of them are people we know and call friends. Others have been people who played a significant role in our lives in one way or another. In previous years we have taken the time to read out the names of these people and give thanks for the life they lived and how they influenced our parish community or us as individuals.
This year however we will be doing something a little different. We will be remembering and given thanks for the saints of our lives who are still alive, with us today. We remembered the saints who have died earlier in the week on All Souls Day. Today, we focus on the saints who can often go unnoticed or who are forgotten about, the ones who are still living.
So if you are like many who wonder who makes up a saint, this is part of your answer. Saints are people who are living and immersed in this world in some way. We have already know that saints are not always the people you first expect. The designation saint is not reserved for the ones we read about in scripture or even those whom Rome has decided to canonize. Saints are pretty much ordinary people doing extraordinary things. They may be a relative, friend, or someone who has made it into the news in someway. Perhaps even, you yourself are a saint even if you don’t realize it.
Who are the people who you turn to when you need support the most? Who do you confide in? Who is that one person in your life who you haven’t spoken to in years, but you know when you do pick up the phone you can pick up a conversation just as if it were yesterday since the last time you spoke. When you were at your lowest point and someone came by and dropped off a casserole, a card or simply put a hand on your shoulder you have been touched by a saint in your life.
I often council parents preparing for Baptism. Inevitably we talk about who are going to be the sponsors or guard parents of the one being Baptized. When the parents draw a blank and can’t think off hand of someone I will often say something to this effect, “When your child is a teenager and in trouble and needs someone to pick them up from jail. Your child may be loathed to call you so that you don’t find out. Who is the one person, if it’s not you, who you want your child to call in that situation?” That person is the ideal sponsor or guard parent. This same person also has the makings of a saint.
Saints are people who in small and large ways influence and shape us into the people we are today. They are ordinary people who do extraordinary things. We have a list of them that we included in the Litany of the Saints. Many of them are people who you wrote down. Ordinary people, who in some way have helped us become better people. If we were to reflect on these people we would begin to see some common characteristics. Elements of their lives that they all have in common that earn them the place of being a saint in our lives. So what then are the characteristics of a saint? Not that I am an expert by any stretch of the imagination on the requirements for canonization, but I am pretty sure, the saints of yesterday and today and the ones to still come will have the following in common:
1) Saints are people who let the light in. In the same way a stained glass window allows the light to cast it’s brilliant colours in the church, saints make way for our light and our colour to shine. They are the people who help us offer the best of ourselves.
2) Saints are people who become the hands and feet that Jesus uses. Saints are not afraid to role up their sleeves and get their hands dirty. They jump into life and challenges with both feet. They do not know the what the words “challenge” or “impossible” mean. Rather they embrace challenge and the impossible as “Opportunities.” They constantly look for opportunities to bring Jesus into the muck of life. They live the incarnation of the Word made Flesh because they believe with every fibre of their being that Jesus came into this worold, our world. He was born in a stable, and the very muck of what life has to offer. Because of this they know that the very places in the world we would rather forget or have someone else take care of, is where Jesus is to be found. And they want to be there with Jesus and don’t want to miss out on an encounter with the Holy.
3) Third and almost the most important characteristic, show up! One of the greatest lessons I learned over anything I learned in seminary or as a warden in a cathedral - yes I was one of those too - was taught to me by Bishop Jim Cruikshank, Blessed Memory. He said, “all you need to do, all you really need to do is show up.” In other words what Bishop Jim was saying is that most of the time, people aren’t looking for you to fix their problems for them. They just want and need you to show up. You don’t have to do anything. You don’t have to say anything. Often it is best you don’t. Just show up, be present and people will notice.
This is perhaps one of the hardest things to do. All to often we want to help. We want to get right in there and fix the problem, take the pain away or whatever else it is we think that is needed. We are a church, I know, that likes to fix things and this definitely has it’s place. But sometimes we don’t know what it is that needs fixing until we take the time to wait, reflect, be present, show up and above all listen.
I am convinced that parish council gets frustrated often when I say, “I am not looking for a decision here, but rather an invitation for us to reflect and ponder a way forward.”
4) Listen is the fourth and most important characteristic of a saint. We need to listen to our bodies. We need to listen to one another. Another life lesson given to me by my former Head Server at St. Thomas’s Linden, Keith Tamblin. Keith said to me before I and the family immigrated to Canada. He said, “Robin, God gave you two of these (pointing to his ears) and one of these (pointing to his mouth). That means we need to listen twice as much as we talk.” Listening too is hard, but this is the single most important characteristic of a saint. Because when we listen to others, listen our bodies with an open heart and mind we will begin to hear the voice of God.
So there you have it. My list, as flawed as it may be, are some of the common characteristics I consider that make up saint. These are characteristics that I am sure any one of the names we read out during the Litany of the Saints would have. I am also confident that these are characteristics that you and I share as well.
The redeeming thing about these characteristics is that we do not have to get them all right all the time. There are times and times to come when we will fall short of any one or more of these characteristics. Indeed, living with saints in our midst can sometimes be one of the hardest things we do. They get angry, frustrated and can be difficult human beings to live with. They are this way because they see things clearly in way we don’t. They demand that we pay attention to what it is they are seeing - the Holy in our midst - they through their word and action, serve to point towards Christ. Whenever you look at an icon, traditional or other, inevitably the images and characters will through how their head or hand is shaped, will point to the Christ image or symbol in the icon. Go ahead, check it out the next time you are looking at or meditating on icons. As frustrated as we can get. As angry as we can be, may we always through our word and action point to the Holy and Christ in our midst.