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Saints and Thanks


I have had a fondness for St Teresa of Avila, ever since I discovered that she was born on the same date as me (although I suppose in theory I was born on the same date as her, given that she preceded me by a few hundred years). Teresa did exhibit some of the stranger forms of sainthood, such as levitation (a gift I would find useful sitting in cold churches, given that hot air rises. I have a vision of us all bobbing around in the air at the required level of heat …). More seriously, if we look at her life, beyond all that, she shows a depth of faith and a commitment that can inspire: her dedication to reforming her religious order, despite the controversy it brought, for example, and her willingness to travel to other Convents in her order, at a time when travel was not easy, and when, as an enclosed Nun, she may have been expected (and, indeed, may have preferred) to stay put. Her writings on prayer are still read today. But I think what most strikes me is her willingness to change herself, to follow God’s call at a deeper level than she had in her early life.

There is much we can learn from the Saints, not just from Teresa. We are all different and the Saints are part of a vast array of people, becoming who they are, following the call of God wherever it takes them, and hopefully they can inspire us to a deeper commitment of our own. However, it has always struck me that the New Testament refers not to specific people as Saints, but to all those who follow the Way. It rather strikes against a picture of Saints as extra holy, perfect people whom we can admire, possibly imitate but not aspire to, who are beyond us, even as they may help us. A read through of Paul’s letters shows that the early Church was far from perfect; yet still, there is that use of the word ‘saints’ for the whole people. Now I am not a Greek scholar, so I have no idea what the original word means, or how accurate a translation it is (or even if the word is still translated that way). But, given that, I wonder if that usage can transform our idea of Saints, from being extraordinary people who we can admire but not become like, to something we all are (or, at least, on the way to being). How much would it transform our churches if we saw each of those we worship with each Sunday as saints, despite their (maybe obvious) imperfections? How far would it transform our relationship with our Church leaders if we saw them as saints? Would it also transform their relationship with us, if all church leaders saw us as saints? Or maybe saints in the making.

It’s just so easy to get stuck in a negative frame of mind, to judge those we worship with, or to criticise those who lead us, every time they change our most preferred way of doing, or every time they clash with our own views. It’s so easy, too, to stay with our own friends, and not reach out beyond our comfort zone, or to maintain a surface cordiality that says it is love, but in reality diverges far from it. I wonder how much that would change if we saw ourselves as a body of saints? If we saw ourselves as we actually are – the Body of Christ, the Christ whom we profess to follow? Even if we just see ourselves as saints in the making, as one of those on the same journey as those we call Saints? As it says in Romans somewhere (from memory) ‘for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God’ - even Saints, and we are all part of that same body, part of one another, part of that body of saints that is the Church, even as the Church, and we as individuals, is fallen and failing (and we do and have failed).

What has also struck me from the New Testament is how many letters start with thanks. 1 Corinthians, which soon goes on to discuss divisions in the church and immorality, starts with Paul giving thanks; Galatians, which might have been my second example, doesn’t. Grace and Peace are offered, but then Paul gets straight down to the point, which is the Galatians deserting the Gospel of Christ. Still, many of Paul’s letters start, once the greeting is over, with the words ‘I thank my God for you …’ or something similar. How often do you give thanks to God, not for gifts, or for a nice day, or an answered prayer (all good reasons to give thanks, by the way) but for you yourself? maybe try getting a piece of paper and writing those words at the top: I always give thanks to God for you …’ and then listen and see what comes next. What does God give thanks for about you?

Maybe, just maybe, we could try seeing others that way too; rather than seeing what is wrong, or what irritates us, or how many mistakes have been made, maybe we could start with ‘I always give thanks to my God for you …’. That doesn’t mean that we let people get away with negative behaviour, but it might just mean that we see that behaviour in context, and it can be dealt with more honestly, as part of the whole person rather than that part becoming the whole. ‘I always give thanks to our God for you …. ‘– and just see where that takes us, and how much it might transform us, both us as individuals and us as the body that is the Church, saints of God. For Saints with a capital S and saints with a small s are all part of that one glorious body of Christ, part of that wider family of God that we can all rejoice in being part of, even as we also acknowledge and mourn our failures in following the Christ who continually calls us on.

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