By Fr Sandile Mswane
click HERE for Sunday’s readings
Watching one religious programme on the television one evening, I noted the preacher referring to his congregation as saints. A bit puzzled at first as a Catholic but immediately I comprehended that the preacher was imitating St. Paul in the scriptures who referred to Christians as saints. A Catholic, in his or her mind, might ask the question why did Paul refer to living Christians as saints because according to the Catholic teachings it is not like that. In answering that question maybe we can first look at the etymology of the word Saint. It comes from the Greek word hagios which means dedicated or consecrated to God, holy, sacred, pure, pious.
It is from that understanding that Paul referred Christians to saints because they were a people dedicated to God and called to live a holy life. This is an understanding opposite to what the Catholic Church teaches today about saints. According to the church teachings, saints are the dead and after some years of careful study of their lives which may have had proof to have been holy, they are canonized. The Encyclopedia of Catholicism, 1995, states that saints are “those officially recognised (canonized) by the Church as persons who have lived a holy life, who now share in the Beatific Vision (i.e. face to face experience of the presence of God)”. The Church refers to those as the multitudes “clothed in white robes”, in front of “the throne of God” (John 7:9-15). They are already in heaven enjoying the gaze of God as we have all been promised that “we shall see Him as He really is” (1John 3:1-3).
It is usually assumed that one has to perform or work miracles and wonders to be a saint (maybe as some have done), but the Church teaches that that is not necessary for one to be declared a saint. For an example, almost all founders of congregations and orders, virgins and martyrs are saints without having performed miracles but the greatest part is their dedication of their lives to Christ. Following the Lord’s teachings and examples is enough for one to be a saint. Worth noting also is that, as we are talking about saints being those in heaven and officially recognized by the Church, there are also those saints in heaven whom the Church has not recognized but known by God. I am sure that even here in Eswatini we have saints but not yet recognised by the Church. Our brothers and sisters who have lived the gospel of Christ.
What the Lord taught and showed us was to love. Saints are lover like Christ loved and the ultimate sign of Christ love was the Cross. We are talking about the love of God, of our neighbour and of oneself. The Beatitudes (Mt 5:1-12) narrate the story of love for one to be a saint. If we want to see God, we need to be pure in heart. No drudges against our relatives, friends and neighbours. To enjoy that “love that the Father has lavished upon us, by letting us be called God’s children” (1 John 3:1), and to be called sons of God we need to be peacemakers. Not neglecting the fact that we need to return the favour, the love that the Father showed us first. Love must be reciprocal. Love of God. The Beatitudes calls us also to be merciful towards the other especially to our neighbour. We are not only divided by the fence which exists between us and our neighbour but by many issues which breed hatred amongst ourselves. The willingness to forgive the other will win us mercy in front of the judgement seat thus meriting us sainthood. Our kindness, pity towards those who suffer or are weak will also win us the crown of Salvation.
However, sainthood does not come easily. Instead of it being a bunch of roses it is a crown of thorns here on earth. One needs to lose his/her life if one would love that his/her life might live forever in heaven. Hardships, insults, hunger, persecutions accompany one to sainthood. That is why Christ says “happy are you when people abuse you and persecute you and speak all kinds of calumny against you on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven” (Mt 5:11-12).