Thursday, 23 October 2008

We are saints

Each person we think of as embodying a life lived for God, and each name we recognize as belonging among those instantly thought of as synonymous with faith in God, reveals to us a fruit born of perseverance: a gift unwrapped in the light of unfailing trust in the worth of the journey.
Even for these seemingly exceptional men and women, nothing has been achieved without a series of forks, junctions and crossroads having presented themselves during life’s progress towards fulfilment. Nobody becomes a saint - be that understood as a person canonised by the Catholic Church, or as a person unrecognised in that formal way but seen as having led a holy life - without the twists and turns, struggles and trials of their own journey. Hidden these may be, but they are at least as real as any hurdle or hardship experienced by anyone else. Within saintly exteriors there may well be saints, but within the saints there are men as we are men, and women as we are women. This has always seemed improbable to many of us, but of even greater difficulty has been an acceptance that within each one of us there rests, not only the image, but the reality of a saint. Saints are what we are called to be; the road to holiness and sainthood runs parallel to the one we follow in our growth towards becoming the persons we are meant to be.

I have mentioned the name Francesco Bernadone, and the effect it had on me when found on an otherwise blank page. St Francis was already there: he was wrapped within the developing heart and mind of a boy who was actually named Giovanni not Francesco. Francis is believed to have been given first as a form of nickname, and it was as Francis that the world came to know him.
It continues to astonish me how important the smallest of things can be to us as individuals. For example, one could say that the name on that page should more correctly have been Giovanni Bernadone, but if that had been the case I believe it would not have struck me in the same way, and I would not have learned from it as I did; the initial extra step required to make the connections may have been lost on me, and I would not have been fed by the experience through these last years.

We all have moments, words, glimpses and touches that affect us deeply while the rest of the world carries on oblivious to our plight, our sorrow, our joy, our ecstasy: unaware of our emptiness or desolation, our fullness and our overflowing. Of similar importance in our journey of faith are the availability and attention we receive from others in response to, not only our doubts and fears, but our newfound strengths and increasing realization of our own giftedness. The affirmation we desire and the confirmation we need when first venturing along our spiritual path, seeking and daring to ask our first tentative questions, are both essential to our progress. The right person crossing our path at the right time is a gift from God: God’s provision for us in that moment, however fleeting their presence may be.

That first moment of wondering could become the key to our own sainthood, and as we mature it can be an unnerving experience to suddenly find ourselves called to act as a support for someone else. It is far easier to continue in our belief that we are the ones who need someone to lean on, but just as the person who steadies us at the start of our journey can be essential to our remaining on the right track, so the one who needs support from us can bless us by making us aware that we have to move: that we must take our place further along the path. It is frequently only through such eye-opening moments of need in the lives of others that we are roused from our immobility and pushed out from our comfort zones.

Every move forward in our journey is accompanied by increased responsibility, but it can take a long time for both our awareness and our acceptance of that responsibility to catch up with our focus upon ourselves. We can only begin to believe that we are stepping towards maturity and wisdom when our sense of responsibility finally walks in time with our continued seeking.
To recognise the responsibility immediately, even when the blessing is not through another person’s need but through the experience of God’s presence takes real maturity. Jesus walked with me to bring me to life, not to hold me back while I bathed in the pleasure of His company. In my immaturity it took me far too long to understand that, though in truth I still find myself rationalizing the delay with a belief that I had to wait until the time was right. Perhaps I would never have known when it was time; but Jesus knew. He knows the time for every one of us.
What are believed to be Saint Francis of Assisi’s last words are relevant here: "I have done what is mine to do; may Christ teach you what you are to do."

Alan Abernethy, in his book, Fulfilment and Frustration, gives an example of what I regard as his own maturity: - “I have just experienced (Jesus’) presence in a very moving and inspiring act of worship in the Abbey on Iona. There is a danger I do not want the present to become the past. This was a mountain top experience and, like Saint Peter, I want to stay here for a while. However, I cannot, these moments must become part of my past to encourage me to go forward. ... It is good to be here but I cannot stay here.”
The author has responded to his vocation and has struggled with aspects of it throughout his ministry. The book portrays an example of the perseverance required if we are to discover and strengthen the saint within us, and his willingness to reach out to all denominations in his own search for peace and truth speaks to me, not of division and lack of commitment, but of Christ’s Church.

Is this not what every Christian minister should be doing? Is this not what every minister should be encouraging every one of us to do?
Not ‘What does my church say?’ but ‘What does Jesus say?’
Based purely on the portrayal in his book, I know that he is a man, a minister in whom I would place my trust and with whom I would be ready to walk and to learn. The more often we are able to say that about individuals outside our own churches and beyond the reaches of Christianity the better.
What he has described as ‘a mountain top experience’ is one of the unpredictable outcomes of spending time alone with our God. It is why I take every opportunity to step away from the highways of life, to approach and to linger, whenever I can, at the very edge.
‘Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done.’

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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