Discovering – and being – the saint next door
As Christians throughout the world celebrate the feast of All Saints, Nicole Law says all of us can be saints with a little effort.
We’re good at labelling people… A person who drinks and smokes may easily be tagged as bad company, while the abstemious one may be known as the model citizen.
I am amazed at how quick we (myself included) are to categorise people. The same can be said when we think of saints and sinners. Conventional thinking holds that the saint is spotless, untainted, without a single bad bone in his or her body, whereas the sinner can only stumble into the ditch and walk the crooked path.
The word ‘saint’ evokes images of halos, dreamy looks heavenward and an aura of all-round goodness.
When a friend does something particularly kind, we may find ourselves remarking, “How saintly of you!”
But maybe we are missing a bigger point here, that being a saint doesn’t always entail a straight path to virtue but rather an honest attempt at trying, failing and trying again.
At some point, perhaps, you have come across a school, church or road named after a saint and found out that he or she was a 12th century monk or a 19th century nun. And you might have asked yourself what these figures have to do with your present-day lived experience.
A favourite saint (to-be!) of mine is Blessed Carlo Acutis who was neither a priest nor a monk. He was in fact an Anglo-Italian teenager with a passion for computer programming. Though this young Catholic is best known for cataloguing Eucharistic miracles onto a website prior to his death to leukaemia, he was actually like any other teenage boy.
He enjoyed films, soccer, comics and playing popular video games. Yet what set him apart was his desire to help others. He stepped in to defend disabled students in his school from bullies and volunteered countless hours with his city’s homeless and destitute.
Carlo to me is just like any of us, living in the contemporary world with its stresses and temptations. We may not be living in a hermitage per se because of our everyday obligations but we have the opportunity to go beyond our own desires to see where there is a need and how we can respond to it.
Just think, if we drank one less latte a day and donated the money saved to a good cause, or spent some of our free time volunteering at a homeless shelter instead of watching a Netflix series at the weekend, what a collective difference we could make!
The common enemy we face is more silent than we think … that of apathy. And with this goes an indifference which insulates us from the needs of others and numbs the instinct to reach out to assist where we can.
I am also struck by the stories of many saints of old. I think, for example, of how the fourth century St Augustine lived a reckless life of wild abandon and indulged himself in various vices prior to his ‘aha’ moment, or – in more conventional terms – his conversion.
It’s not about having a spotless record of stellar grades. Saints aren’t perfect people, but rather people on the journey to perfecting their own human nature.
This widens our perspective to see that saints and sinners do not sit on opposite ends of the continuum of virtue, but that a saint is truly a sinner who makes that decision to try …
To try to resist the weakness of human nature. To try to overcome the many temptations we encounter every day. To try to do the good he or she can. Therein lies the key – we can all grow in virtue, we can all be saints in our own way and with our own unique style (because one of the great things about the saints is their variety). The fact that we failed today does not determine the next step we take. We only need to recalibrate, dust ourselves off and start again.
When I think of all the men and women who have gone before us, some dying for their faith, some living lives of simplicity and generosity, some stopping wars, and still others drying the tears of those who suffer, I witness the capacity for goodness that we all have within ourselves.
We all possess free will, the ability to choose our next word or action. I know that you too have the capacity to be a saint, however you envision sainthood. It just needs some effort to listen to God’s call and follow where he leads us.
Blessed Carlo notes: “All people are born as originals but many die as photocopies.” Maybe your heart will be stirred too to share your time and skills with those who need it. You can be the one who instructs, who listens, who bakes, who repairs broken furniture, or the one ladling hot soup. More than what we do, what matters is our attitude in doing it.
We are all sinners, but we are saints too, every time we make the difficult but necessary choice to live, to love and to serve. Let’s not forget that our goal must be the infinite not the finite, striving to share in and pour out God’s love. The Infinite is our homeland.