1Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Hebrews 12:1
Who needs saints? What are they for?
One sunday I was at a Lutheran church and the pastor mentioned it was the feast of all saints day. He talked to the kids during the childrens sermon about the importance of saints as role models. Whenever I think of saints, I start to think of people like my grandma myrtle, who was a woman of prayer, or my aunt ann, who had a heart for sharing her faith and was generous with her time. But I also think of the statues and icons that Catholic and Orthodox churches (respectively) use.
Not just anyone gets to be a saint in the Catholic church. Here are the steps (from ‘how stuff works’ website):
- A local bishop investigates the candidate’s life and writings for evidence of heroic virtue. The information uncovered by the bishop is sent to the Vatican.
- A panel of theologians and the cardinals of the Congregation for Cause of Saints evaluate the candidate’s life.
- If the panel approves, the pope proclaims that the candidate is venerable, which means that the person is a role model of Catholic virtues.
- The next step toward sainthood is beatification, which allows a person to be honored by a particular group or region. In order to beatify a candidate, it must be shown that the person is responsible for a posthumous miracle. Martyrs — those who died for their religious cause — can be beatified without evidence of a miracle. On Oct. 20, 2003, Mother Teresa was beatified. She is now known as Blessed Mother Teresa of Kolkata.
- In order for the candidate to be considered a saint, there must be proof of a second posthumous miracle. If there is, the person is canonized.
Evangelical low-churches tend to not have saints, or acknowledge saints. I think this is because of the tendency they saw in the Catholic church for people to almost worship saints. Another problem was that it seemed silly to pray to saints instead of directly to Jesus. Their thinking was: “we have direct access to God through Jesus, so why would I go to a saint instead of just right to Jesus?” Of course, praying to saints is kind of like asking your godly grandma to pray for you- grandma myrtle. Often when you struggle with something, you ask people who you think have a strong prayer and spiritual life to intercede for you– this is not strange. Catholics just do that to the saints who have died as well as to godly grandmas.
I’m not going to start praying to saints. I do, however, think that its great to learn from the saints. Thats why we are starting our study group on Augustine’s Confessions next week. Augustine was a man who tried in vain to find satisfaction in all kinds of different worldviews and theories, philosophies and theologies, until finally he had a revelation experience and became a Christian. Eventually he was made a bishop (against his will) and he went on to write a lot of important theology helping the early church to sort through difficult debates which were threatening to split the church. Many consider him a key architect of helping to develop the doctrine of the Trinity, for example.
But what strikes one especially when you read Augustine is all the praying he writes in his confessions, and the strong sense of his sin that he sees and feels. He realizes powerfully how strong sin is in his own life, and how powerful it can be in ours. In that sense, he is a saint that its easy to identify with. He is human, all too human, and yet God used him in powerful ways.
But in the passage at the beginning of this post, some take the ‘cloud of witnesses’ to be saints looking down from heaven and watching. I tend to think of it as all the other Christians we are in fellowship with– even the Roman Catholic Catechism says that “The Church, then, is the holy People of God, and her members are called saints.” Passages like I Cor 6:1 or 16:1 talk about saints, but they mean other Christians, who are living, not dead ‘saints’.
So I like to remember those who have come before us– and they are part of the Church, no doubt. They provide models and examples to follow, and have helped lay such a rich foundation for our faith. But I also don’t forget that we are all called saints and called to be saints, somehow. That is a challenge.
May God have mercy on us all…