One of the best descriptions of a saint I’ve ever heard is contained within this probably apocryphal story.
Sitting in a church a minister asked someone to describe a saint – and one little girl pointed to all the figures represented in their stained glass windows and said.
“Saints. They’re the people the light shines through”.
What a beautiful description of a person who walks so close to God that the light shines through in the way they act and live, in their capacity to love and be loved.
How they lived is the main point. The popular saints in the Christian calendar weren’t generally popular for anything they’d ever written or believed. They became popular as examples of how to live.
As with so much in Christianity what was originally intended has changed out of all recognition over the last 2000 years. Saints, nowadays are more commonly thought of as people with miraculous powers who you pray through or sometimes to, in superstitious fashion to get something in return, be it good luck or a child, or protection or even to find something.
Originally it was not like that. Originally saints were just ordinary people like you and me, who because of what we believed had started to let some of the light through in our lives in the way we lived and loved. We all have the light of God within us, but most of us have a dimmer switch which is usually set to a low light with occasional flashes of radiance – me included. A saint is simply someone who allows more of the current, the energy of God through into our daily life. The switch is turned on higher throwing out a more consistent light.
The word “saint” means a witness, which is of course a legal term - someone whose life is a character witness for the divine mystery.
A great modern example of difference between what Sainthood was and has become is Mother Theresa of Calcutta. There is an official commission that gathers information for a process that pronounces whether she qualifies as an official “saint” or not. There is even a team of people that gathers information on whether she had ever performed a miracle, because the Roman Catholic church insists that a saint must possess the power to make miracles in order to qualify to become an official saint. Where and how did it all go so wrong and muddle headed?
Mother Theresa doesn’t need a team of religious bureaucrats to decide whether she will become a saint or not. Mother Theresa is a saint solely and simply because of the way she lived and loved and let the light shine through in her life. It was a life marked by compassion for others. It is the kind of lived example that led the Indian government to give her a state funeral, even though she was a foreigner and from a small minority faith, Christianity, in that country. That was a testimony to the impact her life had in India.
You don’t become a saint after you die, you live as a saint when you are alive and those things you did and said become an inspiration to others who try and walk the path of faith...
We all have the potential to let the light shine through us. We can all be examples of love and compassion. As Saint Francis said in words attributed to him. “Go preach the gospel. Use words if you have to.”
Keeping close to the source of the light is a great start and then allowing ourselves to live in that light rather than try and block that light out from our lives. It is through being close to love, and knowing love that one learns to love. In the love and security of God’s love for us – called God’s grace - that we learn to have the courage to love ourselves and others.
Today, Sophie Ann Hebdon has been purposely brought here today to come close to the light and symbolically be incorporated into the love and care of God. We are demonstrating something that we believe and trust to be true. That she is loved by God, the light that already shines within her. The light that enlightens every person.