“… to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints
together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”
1 Corinthians 1:2
Today, November 1, is the Feast of All Saints. Recognition, veneration, and prayer concerning saints can be a tricky issue for Christians. My family alone represents several different viewpoints on the topic. We were all recently in Italy together, visiting small towns and churches that would be mostly inconsequential but for the saints that ministered there and changed the world. At the end of our family travels, I realized how much the contemplation of the lives of three remarkable people had affected me. And I started to think a lot more about why saints are important.
St. Francis of Assisi is known for his passionate pursuit of all things, including, eventually, Christ. His goal, to which he brought every last shred of his being, was to know and serve the Lord and live devotedly as one of his disciples. Saint Clare, founder of the Poor Clares and a contemporary and disciple of St. Francis, died on a pile of rags in a corner, on the floor of the little convent where she served as abbess and had been recognized by the Pope. Her ministry endures 700 years later where she began it and in far-reaching corners of the globe. Fra Angelico, a gifted painter, spent his life offering his gift in places where it would be seen by some of the most powerful people in the world, and in places where it would only be seen, for all he knew, by one person. And it was in these cloistered cells in San Marco where it is said his best work was done.
All three of these people took their gifts and their lives and laid them on the alter, holding nothing back. Their calls looked very different and took them on very different paths, one bold and impetuous, one localized and humble, and one into the realms world’s wealthiest and most powerful people. And while they are recognized the world over, centuries later, for the impact of their offerings and ministries, none of them ever had that as their aim. They simply obeyed Christ and follow him using everything He had given them, as much or as little as that was. It was this that made them saints, not a Papal proclamation. The examples set by the lives of some of these saints we know about are signposts toward living a full life with Christ. None of them determine, but all of them inform and instruct.
The New Testament letters of Paul pass on greetings, exhortations, and encouragement for the new members of the early church, calling them “saints”. In the Psalms, the chorus “O you, his saints” is repeated again and again. So what is a saint? Is it a list of extraordinary people who have lived exemplary lives of service in the name of God? Yes, but that’s not all it is. Paul and the psalmist both are calling all true believers saints. They are calling us, then and today in the modern era, into what we are called to be. We are all called to be saints. The term is universal in its application to all followers of Jesus, set apart for a life of great hardship and even greater purpose. So remember today the Feast of All Saints, that the invitation to the banquet table to extends those who have gone before, those who left legacies, those whose names we will never know, and those we are becoming even now.