I want a TV presenter that the Danish people will say, I wish to be that person. A presenter that arouses in Danes the sentiment of being better, living for something greater. A programme that communicates a positive vibe. Those are the paraphrased words of Alex to Torben in the Danish TV Series entitled Borgen. The Church echoes similar words today as she remembers all saints. She asks us to remember all those she has officially recognised as saints, those she is in the process of recognising, and those known to us personally, but unknown to her. These unknown saints could be a father, a mother, a brother, a sister, a relative, a parishioner, a friend, or even an enemy.
The Church wants us to celebrate them, not because our celebration adds the slightest thing to the life they share with God in heaven. But according to Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, ‘Calling the saints to mind inspires, or rather arouses in us, above all else, a longing to enjoy their company, so desirable in itself.’ It makes us wish to be like them. As we celebrate them, we recall their successes and failures. We ask how they lived their lives. The eight beatitudes in today’s Gospel reading is the Church’s answer to the question, how they lived their lives. But before we delve into the beatitudes, can we answer another question? Who are the saints? In simple terms, a saint is a friend of God. For Soren Kierkegaard, a saint is person whose whole life is about God. Father Richard Rohr gives a deeper description, a saint is a person whose life is not about himself or herself.
His or her life is about God, about others. Oscar Wilde puts a twist to it, a saint is one who has a past, and a sinner is one who has a future. Oscar Wilde’s description of a saint ties up very well with the beatitudinal vision of a saint. In the beatitudes, Jesus simply offers us paths to happiness. ‘There is only one sadness’, Leon Bloy said. ‘It is the sadness of not being a saint.’ In other words, true happiness, is to be a saint. And as Oscar Wilde said, a saint is one who has a past. One who might have broken all the commandments, but in his sinfulness acknowledges the need for a saviour. One who lives with a longing for God’s help. One who does not give up on God but relies on Him for repentance. One story comes to mind here. It is a story of a father, a husband, a former high school teacher, whose life from the outside was anything but saintly. He was a failure on many fronts. He failed in his academics.
He never achieved his aspiration of being a doctor. He failed as a husband. He failed has a father. And he failed as an employee. He was that sort of bloke everyone knew in the negative sense. But one thing many of people did not know was that he was always at the back of Church every day praying. He was literally weeping and seeking God’s help. For 35 odd years he struggled with alcohol and anger issues. He underwent many sobriety programmes and he still could not regain sobriety. His life was often one step forward, and three steps backward. But one good thing about Greg was that he mourned the good life he had lost to alcohol and anger. He was also poor in spirit. He realised he could not help himself.
He hungered and thirsted for good relationships with God, with his family and all the others he had hurt. He sought to make peace with everyone. In his brokenness, he was merciful to others. And God did comfort him at the end through his daughter who never gave up on him. He regained sobriety towards the end of his life. He reconciled with his wife and children and died a happy man in the warm arms of his wife. His story fits Oscar Wilde’s description of a saint. He was a sinner. But he did not look at how bad he was and give up on God. Rather he focused on how good God is and kept seeking His help.
He was truly meek. He patiently bore his struggles, trusting that God would one day set him free and restore to him the joy of salvation. In many ways, Greg was a friend of God. He was not ashamed to bring to God his true self. In that sense, Greg is a saint. Yes, he is not recognised by the Church. But to his wife, his children and those who knew him personally, Greg was a saint. Quite often they remember Greg. They are inspired and summoned by him. When I first heard Greg’s story, I could not but stop and reflect on the outcome of his life. I was inspired by his deep trust in the goodness of God. I also pray to be a saint like him. Perhaps, this is what All Saints is about – an inspiration to be saints.