Thursday, December 08, 2005

The Case for Traditional Principles Part VII: Called to be Saints

With all the talk I've done lately about what it means to be Catholic, I would be negligent if I did not cover this important topic. To be Catholic is to be a saint. "Tierney, isn't one of the great problems in today's Church that we canonize everyone as a saint, how can you say we are all saints?" From a certain point of view, this is no doubt correct. The problem comes when we touch upon the issue of language. Normally, when we hear the word saint, we think those canonized by Holy Mother Church, those individuals of heroic virtue, yet signified by their simplicity in loving God. They led such a life of holiness, they are given special recognition as a saint.

Yet the cause for this honor is not because they were something different than we are. No, we are saints just like them. The cause for that honor was the dignity in which they lived out their life as a saint. So much so, we are called, as saints, to emulate those individuals, to honor them as heroes of the faith. One of the positive developments of the past 40-50 years is an emphasis on that call of sainthood that we all share. While at times being prone to excesses just like any young movement, the Charismatic movement's emphasis on the "universal call to holiness" to each and every individual in the Church should give even us Non-Charismatics pause to reflect upon that call. Yet I am getting ahead of myself.

When it comes down to it, what is a saint? The word "saints" appears 95 times in Scripture. The Greek word for saint is hagios, meaning a most holy thing. So far that translates into the most popularly understood concept of "saint." Yet there is a deeper meaning, and one that is well understood throughout the Old Testament. That is understood as those called from God. The saints are God's people, called from this world, and joined to him in the Covenant. By virtue of baptism, we are all saints.

As with the name Catholic, saint also has several responsibilities to the name. There is a standard of behavior one is to adopt since they are a saint. We are not like the children of the world, without hope, in slavery to sin. Baptism frees us from this bondage. Since we have freedom from this bondage, we are to act accordingly. Part of this involves practical measures, such as those St. Paul gives to the Ephesians in Chapter 5:

But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not so much as be named among you, as becometh saints: Or obscenity, or foolish talking, or scurrility, which is to no purpose; but rather giving of thanks. For know you this and understand, that no fornicator, or unclean, or covetous person (which is a serving of idols), hath inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no man deceive you with vain words. For because of these things cometh the anger of God upon the children of disobedience.

We get the understanding from St. Paul that there is some behavior that we cannot do just because by our very nature as Christians it is not proper. By the very name "saint", this behavior can't even be named amongst us, much less committed. Our moral example is to be so high, if such an accusation were ever brought forth, the reaction would be "far be it for him to commit such!" Furthermore, we must live up to the namesake of saint to have the benefits of being a saint, the inheritance in heaven. There were those who were set apart from this world, and called to heaven, but violated the covenant with God. They engaged in all the sins St. Paul mentions here, and were "the children of disobedience."

Despite the common misconceptions of Protestants and others, this call to holiness is not just for your clerics, or your religious. It is for all of us, every last one of us baptized. It is the call of the saints, and the call we are asked to answer.

God Bless,
Kevin M. Tierney