April 20, 2012

A Conversation About Saints

Tapestry at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, Los Angeles

This morning I was engaged in a very stimulating conversation on saints.  Since the beginning of Lent I have been meeting on Friday mornings in my living room with a small group from my home parish to watch Fr. Robert Barron's documentary series CATHOLICISM.  I can't praise this series enough and the episode we watched this morning was the one on the Communion of Saints.  If I had to choose my favorite episode of the entire series this would probably be it.

He begins by telling the story of from the Gospel of Luke (5:1-11) of the call of Simon. Simon and his companions were fishing all night and caught nothing. Jesus gets into Simon's boat, uninvited, orders him to go out to deep water and cast out their nets.  They haul in a tremendous catch of fish.  Jesus then tells Simon that he will now be a fisher of men.  Fr. Barron suggests that a saint is "someone who lets Jesus into their boat."  He calls this an "invasion of Grace." Those two phrases stuck with me the first time I saw this episode and they still resonate in me every time I view it. When the people in my living room heard this I could tell that this struck them as well. 

When I was young and in Catholic school, of course we learned about the saints, but I never thought much of them.  They were interesting and sometimes strange people who appeared to be so unlike anyone I could ever knew or could strive to be like. I didn't understand why people had a devotion to the saints when they could go straight to Jesus.  The saints were no more real to me than the plaster statues that some people had in their homes or that were in church.

All that changed after beginning graduate studies in theology, when I took a course on St. Thérèse of Lisieux. I, like Fr. Barron mentions in this episode, had read her autobiography but found it overly sentimental.  I found out through the course that many people only see that one side of Thérèse and that more recent editions of her book, Story of a Soul, based on unedited translations of her original manuscript, present a very complex and not a all sentimental young woman.  As I read her letters and her poetry, I came to appreciate this complexity and came to love her.  If I could change how I felt about Thérèse, what about other saints? So began a journey that continues today of reading the lives and writings of the saints.  They have become my friends.

Part of our conversation this morning centered around Fr. Barron's remark that we should all strive to be saints. We look at the lives of saints and we see their heroic virtue and think that we can't be like that.  Why not?  When I read or hear their stories, they were just ordinary people who let Jesus be the center of their lives. Isn't that what Jesus wants of us? I admit it is not easy, but was it easy for them?  And what's the alternative. If we don't become saints then what does that mean?  I don't even want to think about that. So we decided we all want to be saints, and hopefully all came away from this video and conversation with a clearer view on what it means to be a saint.  We decided to let Jesus into our boat and set out into deep water.

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