All Saints Day: Broken Saints
By: Chris Clow
I have to admit, it’s been a little more difficult than I would have thought to know what to say for All Saints Day. The stereotypical Catholic thing would be to say that I love the saints, and, I mean, it’s not like I don’t. I do love the saints, and I think that as disciples, we are called to be saints. It’s just that, after thinking that, it gets complicated.
To begin with, I’m named after a fake saint (how appropriate for the age we live in now). Well, that’s a bit unfair. I suppose it’s better to say I’m named after a saint that has a lot of out there legends said about him, and we aren’t even sure if he really existed or not. Poor Christopher, it’s not his fault. So, I suppose #maybefakesaint? I guess that doesn’t help me to a good start.
I always had the impression growing up that the saints were these great models of faith and morals, people who show us what it’s like to be a disciple, people who really got it. And thinking about that now, today, honestly, it freaks me out. These are people who founded huge orders and organizations, who spread the faith to far off lands, performed miracles (and not just like finding a parking spot when you’re running late for work, you know, miracle miracles). They did crazy, wonderful, huge things in the name of the Lord, and lived incredible lives. St. Francis Xavier dreamed of bringing the faith to China. I dream of occasionally having a day off. Even when I try to do awesomely good things, I (to paraphrase St. Paul) screw it up and do something wrong instead. Often times I can’t conjure up enough faith to not be frustrated with my co-workers, or my students, or myself, much less move mountains around. What kind of saint can I hope to be?
Also, by the way, a lot of them were killed for their faith. Also, by the way, a lot of them were virgins. Not. My. Preference.
Today’s gospel reading from Matthew is famous. Everyone seems to love this one: “Oh, it’s the Beatitudes! How wonderful!” Maybe everyone else has figured out something I haven’t, but I have to wonder if we’re reading the same passage, because when I hear it, it doesn’t sound like I’m in the “blessed” category. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’m closer to the opposite.
“Blessed are the meek?” I’ve got quite the temper, and I can get angry and frustrated, which while we’re at it also ruins the whole “Blessed are the merciful,” and “Blessed are the peacemakers” thing.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,” those who cling to God with their whole lives and depend on God for everything because they find in God all they need? Nope, not there yet. I love my stuff way too much.
“Hunger and thirst for righteousness?” I mean, I certainly try to try and do that. But I tend to not be hungry and thirsty for very long (in all senses of the phrase).
“Clean of heart?” Yeah, not really, if I’m honest.
“Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me?” I’m too scared to make a post on Facebook that might be deemed “too political,” even when my own bishops aren’t afraid to, because I don’t want any negative blowback. Yeah, definitely not me.
So, am I missing something here? I’m constantly fall short, I’m nowhere close to being blessed if this Gospel passage is what we should go on, and seeing as how many people love this passage, apparently they’ve all got these attitudes down and I’m the one with a problem. So am I screwed?
Well, no. I actually don’t think so. And I have the saints to thank for that. See, what I love most about the saints isn’t their steadfast holiness. I love the saints precisely because they remind me of myself at times.
The saints, holy women and men, are also unfailingly human and flawed. I mean, just look at some of these people: Peter and Paul weren’t angels. Peter denied the Lord, and Paul supported killing disciples. Both saints. Augustine, that great Doctor of the Church, was a womanizer, and probably set our sexual morality back 500 years because of his problems. He’s a saint. Katherine Drexel, a more recent American saint, was filthy rich; she was definitely in the 1% (at least at the start). She’s a saint.
Even a very recent saint, Saint Pope John Paul II – the pope of my youth, the first Polish pope (!), the one I chanted “JP2 – we love you” to with almost a million teens during World Youth Day – made papal visits a thing and went to 129 countries during his lifetime, expanding the positive impact the pope could make, and had many great teachings, such as being a staunch peace advocate. He also presided over the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church, and appointed the bishops and cardinals who passed the buck on it. He’s a saint, too.
So what’s the deal here? These people were all screw-ups, right? Yes, they were – that’s the point. The saints were all wonderful, faulty, flawed people, just like we are, whose love of God and trust in their faith endured alongside their human failings. They weren’t always embodying the Beatitudes perfectly either. But that didn’t stop them from trying. As complicated and as broken as some of the saints are, they still had faith which carried them through, and even with their brokenness allowed them to strive to serve God and others.
That’s a model I can follow after. And so, if we don’t see ourselves in the Beatitudes very easily, maybe we need to learn how to become more like those mentioned. To literally be with and stand with those who are in the Beatitudes. When we stand with and walk beside those who are meek, those who show mercy, the peacemakers, the persecuted, those who are poor (both in spirit and in physical need), we will begin to see the God that we’ve heard about come alive in our midst. If we want to come to know God better, we should start by knowing those whom God has deemed blessed.
We’ll fail, sure. We’ll fall short. But we can always get back up and keep trying. That is the ultimate mark of the saints we remember today. We can still be saints if we’re broken. It might as well be a requirement.
Chris Clow is a campus minister and liturgical musician at St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa. When he isn’t composing music or begging college students to sing in the choir, he likes to play games of all sorts, watch his hometown St. Louis Cardinals, enjoy a good beer (or 2 or 3, depending on how the Cards fare that day), and spend time with his wife Emily and the ever growing number of pets in their house.