We find ourselves in a society where priorities have shifted and many in the past are judged by current standards or awareness. Often this change in mindset is dismissive of faith and the contributions of bygone heroes, both secular and sacred. Junipero Serra defended the rights of indigenous peoples and yet he is condemned along with the Spanish forces that accompany him. Damien of Molokai is derided as one among many who undermine indigenous culture so as to supplant it with the Western European. In truth he came as a minister for Christ and labored for the ostracized lepers when no one else would. Missionaries who came to preach the Gospel to various “peaceful” tribes in North America are condemned as scouts for French colonialism. However, they were also courageous priests and some of the natives were not so peaceful. The missionaries came to preach the Gospel and their reward was gruesome torture and martyrdom. Religious sisters are condemned for starving children in their schools and called murderers for the numbers buried in mass graves. Forgotten is that disease prior to antibiotics destroyed whole towns. If children were hungry, the sisters were often more so because in their poverty they surrendered their food to them. Golda Meir acclaimed Pope Pius XII as the greatest friend and hope for the Jews during World War II and modern critics condemn him for not doing more. We live in an age when we sit back in our comfortable air-conditioned or heated homes and pontificate about the shortcomings of the saints in history.
Saints come in every stripe. Some are learned doctors of the faith and others are simple men and women of service. They are poets, musicians, and scholars. They are royalty, peasants and slaves. They are virgins and reformed prostitutes. They care for the sick and the poor. They educate and help in the formation of children. They are soldiers and peacemakers. They are prophets and mystics.
Our Lord gave us the Church and the saints so that we might have companions for the journey. We do not come to God alone. Saints realize the awesome truth that in a world where many go searching for God, we have a God who comes looking for us. It is God who always takes the initiative. Like ice cream, the holiness of the saints is sweet and sometimes there are nuts, but such comes in all flavors. Given our varying personalities, likes and dislikes, we are attracted to certain saints and their stories over others. There must be a willingness to taste and to see so that we might find what we like. Further, proper religious formation will ensure that we can cultivate our tastes. We try out different types of service. We pursue the spiritual paths or exercises of the saints to find our own. Knowing the saints helps us to know ourselves. We need a properly formed conscience to appreciate the difference between right and wrong. We need to encounter the Lord in Word and sacrament. We learn to appreciate what is genuinely good and true and just. Saints see beyond the trappings of license pretending to be freedom. A devotion to the saints is a corrective to those who follow and delight in secular celebrities more lost than they are. A society that celebrates the authority to destroy children throughout all nine months in the womb hardly has an ethical high ground to judge the saints. Many seem mesmerized or enraptured by money, power and prestige. These are some of the many distractions that make the saints true signs of contradiction to the world.
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