Not long ago, I heard a priest begin his homily with a query: What is the one thing that all saints have in common? The dramatic pause after he posed the question allowed all of us in the pews to consider possible answers. Responses that came to my mind? Holiness, humility, grace, service…
It turns out that my answers were not what he was looking for.
His answer, and the point of the homily, was that all saints are dead. In other words, canonization (which only occurs after death) is the only thing that makes a person a saint. The preacher went on to point out that we’re all sinners – a product of the human condition – and it’s not until after death that we can truly become saints.
I beg to differ. Though his point is well taken (and, I must admit, probably theologically correct), I believe that in our response to the call to holiness, we are continually being invited to choose a path to sainthood. This choice can only be made by the living, as a conscious response to God’s invitation to live a life of grace. Those who are canonized in death got there by living a life of holiness, humility, love, grace, and gratitude. True, they may have been great sinners in life. Yet at some point, whether knocked off a horse or called to conversion on their deathbed, these saints made a choice that only a living, breathing human being could make.
I believe that in our call to be holy in life, being conscious of examples of living saints can help us along the way. People who love, and love well, are the saints I have known. For me, when I think about those living saints I have known who have died, my mind’s eye inevitably focuses on their hands. Hands that showed years of service to family, work, or community. Hands that put a little girls hair into pigtails a thousand times over. Hands that held the steering wheel on the way to church. My dad’s hands were calloused, yet somehow gentle and soft. His mother had beautiful, long fingers with red painted nails.
Today, I give honor to a woman whose love for each individual she came in contact with was a shining example of holiness, humility, grace, and service. My
Grandma Engle. I think about gram’s hands… well-worn and wrinkled. In my minds eye I see her puttering around her kitchen, putting on a pot of coffee for whomever had just walked through the front door. She loved with her hands and with her entire heart. She loved and truly accepted every person she knew. She loved the outcast and the sinner in each one of us. She made a choice to love and continued to live out that choice throughout her life. In all likelihood, she will never be canonized, and yet she is one of the saints I have known.
Let your Spirit come upon these gifts to make them holy.
Today, cooperate with the Spirit who makes you holy. Think about your saints – the ones you know. Make the choice.