When I was growing up, I loved to hear stories about the saints. I was always interested in how a saint came to believe, and what a difference it made, not only in the saint’s life and times, but for others, both then and now.
When I grew up, I didn’t lose my fascination with the saints. I started writing about them. I am still writing about them. Every time I write a sermon for someone’s funeral, I can’t shake the feeling that I am writing about a saint.
I have also been writing about someone who is being considered for canonization by the Roman Catholic Church. Dorothy Day started out as an Episcopalian, before she became a Roman Catholic. Our church already recognizes Dorothy Day’s exemplary devotion. November 29 is designated on the Episcopal calendar as a day for local observances of her life and work.
Dorothy Day lived the beatitudes. “Blessed are the peacemakers.” “Blessed are those who show mercy.” That’s how Dorothy Day is remembered. She was a pacifist when it was not popular to be a pacifist. She was a champion for the poor when poverty was more of an embarrassment to church leaders than a call to action.
One of my favorite quotes from Dorothy Day was something she said in an interview with Robert Coles not too many years before she died. All she wanted people to say about her after she died, if they said anything at all, was that she had lived a life in which her belief in God mattered.
The saints we celebrate today—the saints who have gone before us, the saints who are still with us, and the saints yet to come—reflect an incredible diversity of contexts and circumstances. Despite their differences, their lives speak to us today, through our memories and our imaginings, of what happens when ordinary people live as though our belief in God matters.
And the content of that belief, while important, doesn’t seem to be as critical as the saints’ apprehension that God is present and active in their lives—the sense that God is leading and guiding them. We recognize saints by their willingness to arrange their lives so that they able to listen for those promptings and follow them.
Those of us who feel the tug of the Spirit, who feel called to be saints, may feel like the best thing for us to do is to stay out of the fray, to stay unmuddied, to not put ourselves in situations where we have to make hard decisions that are only partly good, only partly right.
But the story of the saints tells us that there’s no escaping the world, no way we can protect ourselves from the possibility of falling short. We can’t withdraw from situations in which we might have to confront our own hypocrisy and do something about it. That’s what it means to be a saint, I suspect—to be willing to recognize where our faith is too shallow or incomplete, and to be willing to let God direct us to a deeper place through prayer and scripture and the support of this Christian community.
It’s when we do that—when we risk having to face our own weakness and frailty—that we find God working in us and through us to bring about a new creation. St. Paul says it this way: God’s power works best in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).
We are all called to be saints, not because we are exceptionally good or virtuous, but because we carry the Light of Christ. It is in us. It is always there. This is the light that penetrates the darkness and is not overcome by it. Not even death can extinguish it.
The saints of the twenty-first century, the saints we are and the saints we are raising in our church, all of us in our wonderful diversity and particularity, carry the same Light. When we tend to that Light, we will find ourselves coming alive again, opening ourselves to new possibilities, and taking on the work God is calling us to in our time. I don’t need to tell you: The world has never needed its saints more than it does now.
One day, the Light we carry in us will take each of us over and beyond the next horizon to that greater horizon, which beckons the saints of every generation, where love is triumphant, where there is no more hunger or thirst, nor sun or scorching heat, where we will be lead to the springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear. Then will there be rejoicing in the company of saints in light. Then will we see that our hopes have not been in vain, but that our God has always been with us, calling us, caring for us, and leading us home.
To God be the glory!