Many associate this month, now almost over, with those people who have passed on before us; and as soon as the second of November goes by many start visiting the resting place of relatives and loved ones alike – people set fresh flowers, and candles are never lacking. There was once a guy who cynically commented that during this period some individuals take more care of the gravesite than of the deceased while still alive!
However this month also starts off with another important feast: All Saints’ Day. I’ve tried to read up on saints this particular month and believe you me – if I tell you there’re a lot of saints, it’d be a serious understatement! I think that you’ve probably heard, like I have, someone talking about this fact as if it were an oddity of the Church, something for the kids or otherwise some kind of weird obsession. There are even those who comment that the Church has become a Saint-factory, with one canonisation after the next… (When I actually hear this reflection I always appeal to myself with an “If only!”; if only everyone who came into contact with the Church became saintly!).
Obviously, when someone comments on the saints in this manner, one does not mean people who have led good lives, but rather the saints for which we sculpt statues or celebrate feasts. And this is where one has to stop a bit and reflect on the role saints play in the Church. Behind the feasts, the statues, the devotions, the parishes in their name, the large amount of books and biographies about them, there is a person who battled life through; with his neighbours, with himself, and many a time with God.
Something about saints which fascinates me is not their number, but the diversity amongst them. There is no one pattern, no ‘One Road’ leading to the Father. Neither is there a particular lifestyle for the disciple of Christ – among the saints one can find priests, religious people, workers, youths, housewives and mothers.
Among these saints we find Saint Thomas Aquinas, one of the brightest men to ever have lived. On the other hand we find the Curate of Ars, who found great difficulties in finishing his final years at the seminary. St. Vincent de Paul, a saint made famous for his work among the town commoners, stands alongside Anthony the Abbot who found holiness in the desert. We come across Bernard of Clairvaux, who lived a life of sacrifice and prayer in his monastery, as well as Hildegard of Bingen who spent her life writing hymns of praise to God in the garden of her monastery. St. Peter the Apostle, renowned for his temperament yet not so educated, and Edith Stein, colleague of the famous Heidegger. Finally, we also find Bruno with his serious outlook, shoulder to shoulder with Filippo Neri, whose spirituality was based on happiness and the docile character.
How can one explain this? How can one own up to the great diversity of Saints? We find the answer in St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, when St. Paul tells us about God the Artist. The true artist finds outlet in changing over the style, experimenting, creating the new. We may take Picasso’s museum in Paris as an example: almost every hall in the building has a style totally different than the one before it. Ultimately, they are all Pablo Picasso’s works who seemed to change his style very noticeably every ten years. In this shrine we find traditional Picasso, who acutely elicits details which give new life to the work of art, and a very abstract Picasso with vivacious and powerful colours. Every room has authentic yet very different Picassos, and all are considered masterpieces belonging to this artistic giant of the 20th century. The saints can be considered as the ‘masterpieces’ of God, who never tires of using different forms and colours. And like every artist reveals personality traits through his art, so God shows Himself through his saints. Schillebeeckx writes: “People are the words with which God tells his story”, and in some of these people God reflects his own perfection and the great love he has for us.
Finally I’d just like to suggest a little exercise which has actually been suggested to myself. As an Advent exercises find a saint (from the 10,000 or so saints and beatified), someone who seems to have a similar personality to yours, or a similar way of expressing emotions, or similar interests, and get to know this particular saint. Let him guide you and be there for you. Find a compatible saint to integrate into your life of prayer. Do not stop here, however. Also search for an ‘opposite’ saint, one who rubs you the wrong way when you read about, or one which draws out a negative and rejecting response from you. This is another saint to whom you should lend an ear.
After all, no matter how diverse they are, all saints have one thing in common – they’ve all died! This may get you smiling, but it’s true that whatever the Saint had to get done got done. What’s left is for us to start journeying on the road which leads to where no eye has seen and no ear has heard.