Sunday, 25 May 2008

Something close

It is the very ordinariness of the man or woman that makes the process of sanctification such a blessing. If humankind ever had another easier, even automatic way of achieving perfection, a way inherent in our very existence, it was lost to us at the very beginning, as the story of the Garden of Eden portrays.
It is their ordinary beginning that brings the saints into a meaningful relationship with the average Christian of today; it brings them into our everyday sphere of consciousness as people who lived lives in much the same way as we ourselves live, with struggle, hesitation and doubt. That which made them recognizable as Saints was drawn out of their living lives of faith amid distraction, temptation and the needs of others.
I do not mean to equate sanctification with perfection, though the completion of the process will inevitably take us there. But, within the bounds of this life, we can have no way of fully knowing what it is or of recognizing it, other than in the presence of Jesus Himself. Perfection can be a distinctly unhelpful word to us as we strive to be one of His disciples, following to the best of our ability, picking ourselves up repeatedly when we fall, and walking on in the unflinching knowledge that Jesus has done the complete and irreversible work of redemption for us; there is nothing required of us other than a constant turning towards obedience to His teaching and His will, and learning to see every person, every need and every situation through His eyes.

The persons we call Saints are those regarded as having lived beyond the normal limits of human life, with an achieved level of sanctification surpassing the expectation of those deemed best able to judge such things. But, just as true peace and truth are beyond our normal understanding of those words, so nothing is perfect until true perfection is attained. Whatever their assessed degree of sanctification, and however far they may have progressed, those we regard as Saints are unlikely to have achieved perfection in this life. But we revere them as though they had, and therein lies part of the reason for the wrong understanding of our devotion.
Those outside the Catholic Church believe those within it pervert the means of access to spiritual nourishment by praying to Saints instead of to Christ Himself. This is highlighted by the Catholic’s perceived relationship with the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God.
It is as easy for Catholics to blame those outside their church for any failure to understand correctly, as it is for members of protestant and reformed churches (the same but with different emphases on reasons for being separated) to blame the Catholic Church and its individual members for what they see as a form of idolatry. And who are the people most to blame for much of the confusion?
The ordinary, devout but spiritually dilute Catholics who find an ordinariness, a simplicity, a poverty, an injustice or a persecution, in the Saints’ stories that closely parallels their own. But these understandable links of lifestyle and hardship are perverted by the elevation of the Saints to positions of prominence and adoration.
Their real power in our lives is in their having had their feet in the same mud and dust that we now tread, in their ordinary human origins, and in their successful journeying to become the persons God made them to be. It is not in statues, candles, or sanitized and beautified versions seen forever as beyond our world and our reach. They did not feel perfect and beautiful during their lifetime.

In her ‘Guidelines for Mystical Prayer’, Ruth Burrows has written, -
‘Our cowardice and our pride are past-masters at disposing of the saints. We don’t burn them: we put them on a pedestal, which is the same thing as putting them on the shelf. They do not challenge us any more. They are no longer men and women just like ourselves, flesh, blood, nerves; somehow they are quite special, they have been given what we have not. They did not really spring from our common stock. This flower of holiness is not of our soil. Those far above us do not challenge us, it is the one close to us who does what we do not do, becomes what we do not become, this is whom we fear, this is the one we must dispose of. What is more, we find vicarious satisfaction in seeing one of ourselves raised to a superhuman state. We like to think that this is what human nature really is.’

The line between valid appreciation and idolatrous promotion can be very narrow, and even low levels of Christian awareness and devotion make is easy to cross that line unawares. That tendency has been with mankind for a very long time.

‘The people of the Old Testament were tempted to make idols of wood, ivory or silver to hang from their camels’ saddles, while the people of the New Testament carry saints’ medals in their pockets instead of God in their hearts. The motive is more or less the same. We are too idle to make the effort to think of God as being beyond time and space, in His Transcendence and Mystery – it is so much more convenient to give Him a cheap face in order to replace His remoteness with something tangible, something close to us, something above all which will heal us when we are ill, enrich us when we are poor.’ (Love is for Living. Carlo Carretto)

- And this in spite of the fact that God Himself did ‘replace His remoteness with something tangible, something close to us ...’

He gave us Jesus.

About Me

Who I am should be, and should remain, of little consequence to you. Who you are is what matters; who you are meant to be is what should matter most to you. In coming closer to my own true self, I have gradually been filled with the near inexpressible: I have simply become "brim full", and my words to you are drawn from those uttered within myself, as part of an undeniable overflowing that brings a smile to my every dusk, and to my every new dawn.
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