What is a Saint?
This article by Fr. Stewart Murray has been reprinted from Crosstalk, the newspaper of the Anglican Diocese of Ottawa.
November 1st is the Feast of All Saints, when the Church gives thanks for the all Saints of God, countless numbers known now to God alone. I have always struggled to understand the meaning of “the Saints” and what it means to “be a saint.” Recently I was in a religious-supply store and behind the cash was a wall of plaster statues of saints of various sizes and artistic styles. They were like the images of saints that we see in stained-glass windows — rather unrealistic and artificial. If this is what saints are about, how can they “speak” to me as I strive to live the Gospel in the world today?
When we turn to the Scriptures we find that St. Paul refers to the people of the Churches as saints: “To the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints....” (II Corinthians 1:1). This begins to point to a new way of thinking of what a saint is, for the meaning of the word in Greek that has been translated as “saint” simply means “holy.” St. Paul also writes that those who have been baptized into Christ have been so transformed that they are now considered holy and a new creation (II Corinthians 5:17).
To look around the Sunday-morning congregation (or in the mirror!) and realize that all of us are saints gives a very different way of understanding what a saint is. They are not plaster or stained-glass images of people who lived long ago but all of us who are and were followers of Jesus. A saint, therefore, is someone who seeks to follow Christ, who by word and example strives to show the mercy and love of God, and whose life is shaped by the hope and promises of the Gospel. We have “capital S” Saints beginning with St. Paul and the Apostles, and continuing through the ages, others whom the Church either by local acclamation or a formal process identified as having lived a life so shaped by Christ that they are a worthy example for us to follow. But All Saints’ Day is also about the saints of every day: our fellow parishioners and all Christians around the world.
Everyday life is the true setting for our lives as Christians (including but not only our time at church). Our contact with God also takes place in the midst of ordinary daily routines and interactions with others, in the worries and troubles of our lives as well as in our joys and accomplishments. There we will find our daily encounter with Christ. It is in the midst of the most material things of the earth that we serve God and all humanity.
A holy life is lived in the midst of secular reality, lived without fuss, with simplicity and honesty. A holy life is lived in the knowledge that striving to love others as Christ has loved us and sharing the hope of the Gospel in words and in service transforms souls and the world. Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta reminds us, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” This is the heart of how we live a holy life as saints of God.
Our lives may not be without struggle or difficulty or even failure, but God’s grace forgives and renews us to begin once again. The saints of God — whether with a capital S or the saints of every day — know that it is only by the grace of God that we can be His faithful witnesses. So, as we celebrate the Feast of All Saints, let this be a day to remind ourselves of our new identity in Christ as saints of God, and seek in our daily routines opportunities to reflect and be an instrument of God’s grace.