As the clock ticks down towards the canonisation of Blessed Mary of the Cross this Sunday, I've been bemused by the fact that very few of the commentaries actually focus on the nature of sainthood or of religious life.
Nothing has served to expose the intellectual weakness of the faith, and lack of good solid catholic commentators in this country, more than the dearth of good opinion pieces in the media over the last few weeks in the face of continuing distortions and attacks from secularists, protestants and liberal/modernists within.
What makes a saint?
I've heard about Mary the feminist heroine, Mary the miracle worker, Mary as patron of abuse victims, Mary's life and times as colonial history, even Mary the property developer! I've read about the politics of saint making and saints cults, about exploitation of Blessed Mary's name.
But beyond a few side allusions to her 'outback spirituality' precious few of these pieces actually attempt to explain what it means to be a saint in a serious way. Even fewer have talked about the nature of religious life (though that perhaps is unsurprising given that the orders she founded have pretty much abandoned her vision).
The Age did a piece that attempted (badly) to poll people on the intercessory value of saints. The ABC hosted an 'inter-faith dialgoues' on the nature of sanctity in various religious traditions.
And the latest offering of this genre is from protestant commentator Greg Clarke in the Punch - who can't resist more than a few sidewipes at Catholic dogma and processes in the course of his article - but does nonetheless make a few useful points.
Love, not just faith makes a saint
Unfortunately, Clarke doesn't get it right. He focuses on the New Testament usage of the word saint, suggesting that any believer can be called a saint.
Well, only in the non-technical sense of the word saint.
What makes a recognized, canonised saint is the virtue of charity taken to a heroic degree. Faith is a necessary foundation of course. But it is perfect love, the love of God, the love that enables martyrs to die for the faith, that enables saints like Mary of the Cross to withstand persecution and difficulties in order to do God's will, that makes a saint.
All the same, at least Clarke actually focuses on the real reason for celebrating a canonization, the spur it is supposed to provide us all to pursue sanctity.
The saint is the sinner who picks himself up time and again and seeks forgiveness...
Here are some of the helpful parts of his piece:
"After all, don’t you become a saint by being the best kind of human being you can be? That involves caring for others in extraordinary ways, performing extraordinary deeds, seeking unwaveringly to obey God, giving up some of life’s pleasures for greater goods, and devoting your strength and talent to God and others, rather than your own gain.
That’s got to be worth celebrating...
But being a saint—that’s something to aspire to. I know plenty of non-religious people who try to be saintly, good people who seek to live in a way that improves and adorns the world. There’s something saintly in that, but it’s not what the Bible means by ‘saint’.
...Jesus taught that it was the sinners who become saints. It’s those who take a long, hard look in the mirror and end up on their knees. It’s people who, recognising their failures, lean on God and the story of Jesus Christ’s hard-won forgiveness of sins, in order to come to terms with their own broken humanity.
Saints aren’t the best humans, but the broken ones. They are sinners making good, trusting in God’s mercy and forgiveness..."