Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The example of saints

I worked with someone awhile ago who was agnostic, or at least that's what I labeled him as. He once related a story to me about his son asking him if there was a god, and how he had to tell him that no one could know. Something along the lines of "out of all the religious traditions of the world, who am I to decide which one is right?"He attended church sometimes and liked the tradition of it, but that was all he was willing to commit to. I wonder if that wasn't an excuse to do what was easiest--just not decide on God. And I can understand that, a little, as a person who dislikes making big decisions. Life can be easier when one chooses to not decide on God, at least in the immediate sense. If we can't know if there is a God, then there's a lot of gray area in terms of right and wrong. A little more moral scootch room to move around in, a nice place where private, personal conviction is the only moral code to follow.

I told my coworker, basically, that his position was flawed, trying to point out the ways we can think objectively about any religion. This was hard to do, I didn't feel prepared to stump for my religion on the spot. I wonder if I had known more about the lives of saints back then if my comments to him would have been different. As a Protestant, I knew nothing about the saints, except the ones who were in the Bible, and we certainly didn't call them saints. I think if you know something of the lives of the saints, it becomes harder to write off God as undefinable, because the saints are another powerful, often recent (or current, in the case of those whose bodies have not decomposed) witness to the reality of Christ. These people certainly did not worship an undefinable God; they weren't enduring suffering, performing miracles, receiving visions, or devoting their lives to an unnameable God or a vague cause they felt peace pursuing. Many died painful deaths precisely because they knew this God so exactly they were willing to give up human life in order to be with Him, unfettered by sinful nature.

I think it's safe to say that the witness of Christian saints is unparalleled among other religions. They have saints as well and certainly people who do not know Christ have done saintly things with their lives, but not quite on the same scale. Because the saints' lives are so unique, they present questions to non-believers and believers alike. How could someone live such a life joyfully? By what power did miracles happen? Why would they choose the life they did? Either they were liars, merely deluded, grossly misrepresented by history, or they were on to something real. The saints are one more layer of evidence that confronts the world. Because faith doesn't exist in a vacuum, belief is really only belief when it results in action, and that's what the saints represent: follow-through. They illustrate what can result out of loving Christ. Ideally, every Christian has this element of visible faith, but c'mon, we're not all going to be canonized.

And, just for fun, some of the stories I've come across and would like to remember:

Saint Lawrence
: A deacon in Rome, who, when required to turn over the wealth of the Church to Rome within three days, quickly gave away as much as possible, and then rounded up the poor, weak, and suffering and presented them to the prefect as the true treasure of the Church. Grilled to death in 258, reportedly crying out "I am already roasted on one side and, if thou wouldst have me well cooked, it is time to turn me on the other."

Saint Jean Vianney: Priest, lived a life of charity and mortification; allowing himself 2-4 hours of sleep a night and very little food, for the last 10 years of his life he spent up to 18 hours a day hearing confessions. Died in 1859, exhumed in 1905 and body found to be incorrupt, still on display in the Basilica at Ars (France).

Saint Catherine Anne Emmerich: Augustinian nun, often lived in the supernatural realm, experiencing ecstasies and visions throughout her life. Received the stigmata from 1813-1818.

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