Who in the World Wants to be a Saint?
St. Paul calls Christians saints in almost all his letters. Even the Corinthians, his most fractious, uncongenial, heretical congregational! I mean, if he can call them saints, he’d probably call us saints too.
But who in the world wants to be a saint? Nearly all of us recoil at least a little when we read or hear Paul calling us that, don’t we? Saints are so, so, well, so uncool. Moralistic, judgmental, superior, unable to empathize with others who haven’t got it all together as they do, I mean think Ned Flanders, for God’s sake!
Not all of think that way about saints, however. Perhaps we ought here their testimony before we completely dismiss the idea. Three of them I give you below.
First, is Leonard Cohen:
What is a saint? A saint is someone who has achieved a remote human possibility. It is impossible to say what that possibility is. I think it has something to do with the energy of love. Contact with this energy results in the exercise of a kind of balance in the chaos of existence. A saint does not dissolve the chaos; if he did the world would have changed long ago. I do not think that a saint dissolves the chaos even for himself, for there is something arrogant and warlike in the notion of a man setting the universe in order. It is a kind of balance that is his glory. He rides the drifts like an escaped ski. His course is a caress of the hill. His track is a drawing of the snow in a moment of its particular arrangement with wind and rock. Something in him so loves the world that he gives himself to the laws of gravity and chance. Far from flying with the angels, he traces with the fidelity of a seismograph needle the state of the solid bloody landscape. His house is dangerous and finite, but he is at home in the world. He can love the shapes of human beings, the fine and twisted shapes of the heart. It is good to have among us such men, such balancing monsters of love.
Next up is Frederick Buechner.
Maybe more than anything else, to be a saint is to know joy. Not happiness that comes and goes with the moments that occasion it, but joy that is always there like an underground spring no matter how dark and terrible the night. To be a saint is to be a little out of one's mind, which is a very good thing to be a little out of from time to time. It is to live a life that is always giving itself away and yet is always full.
Finally, there is Thomas Merton.
Sanctity is not a matter of being less human, but more human. This implies a greater capacity for concern, for suffering, for understanding, for sympathy, and also for humor, for appreciation of the good and beautiful things of life.
What if Paul meant by saint something more like Cohen, Buechner, and Merton rather than like Ned Flanders. Would you then recoil from him calling you a saint?