Thursday, December 10, 2009

How 'bout those Saints!

I remember quite a long time ago listening to a talk about the nature of holiness and humanity. There was a large audience, a couple of hundred people or so. The speaker asked us to raise our hands if we thought we were holy. My hand immediately went up - I didn't even need to think about that one! But I looked around and realized I was the only one. I was mortified, it was one of those most embarrassing moments! I didn't have a chance to explain my point of view, and in fact, the rest of the talk was about how it was impossible for us human beings to be holy. I wanted to crawl under my chair and sneak out the side door! The speaker claimed that we were not holy people and could not be holy people. Obviously, I was the one crazy person in the room and had some kind of god complex.

When we think of being holy, we think of saints, and many of us probably think about it in terms of what the Roman Catholic Church teaches about saints. A saint is someone who has been dead for a good long time and has performed miracles. A saint is someone who behaves beautifully all the time and never does anything sinful or wrong. We might think in terms of a mysterious, perfect kind of person. Saints have become intermediaries, untouchable, and frankly, discouraging for all us "normal" folks. When we think of these perfect saints, we might remember the saint count in heaven:144,000 – the number of those who made it. When you think of all the human beings on this planet, these are worse odds than the lottery! I may as well give up now and live the high life! With those standards, I am no saint and I certainly ain't makin' it to heaven. I suppose holiness really is impossible!

But wait a minute! When that speaker asked that question, I was wondering why everyone didn't know that they are holy. I thought every person should have raised his or her hand. I have always thought about holiness as a matter of degree: no one is perfect but we all have some holiness in us. We're not perfect saints, but we are saints, and we're working on doing better. When you look a little more carefully at that 144,000, we find that this number it isn't about limiting the people in eternity with God, but it is about describing a limitless number of people. Twelve is the number for completeness or everything. When this number is used in the Bible, it means all or everyone. When you take that number and multiply it by itself, that means all times all. And then, the Biblical writer multiplies it again, times ten times ten times ten! That's everyone times ten three times! I think that means everyone several times over! How much more emphatic can the meaning be?!

So I think the question becomes not are we saints? But how saintly are we? There is holiness within every person, so how is that holiness doing? Is the holiness being nurtured or stomped out? It the holiness growing or diminishing? Just how holy am I? Maybe part of what this life is about is holy making. With God's help, each of us grows in holiness and spreads that holiness in our world. Every one of us is called to be holy, to make our world holy, and to see that holiness in others. Holiness is not reserved for an elite few. It is the nature of all people. We are created with that spark of holiness within, and we have only to cooperate with God's creative process. Perhaps if more of us thought of ourselves as carrying that holy spark, we might have the courage to act upon it.

Every one of us is in that great multitude in heaven. That multitude that no one can count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in our hands, crying in a loud voice, saying “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”


  1. I so love this....I could feel my blood pressure relaxing as I whole body just physically relaxed as I read the it does in so many of Catherine's beautiful words....thank you!

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