Living with nuns means I get exposed to a ton of Catholicism. Who knew. The most interesting and compelling ideas I’ve encountered is the phenomenon of the Saints.  It’s the idea of Catholicism that intrigues me the most.  They are canonized by the Pope himself, so you know it’s a pretty big deal. I imagine the process of becoming a Saint is lengthy and not unlike the progression from Oscar nods to the Academy Award win on the big night. There are multiple requirements, like being deceased, performing miracles, living out a particularly Spirit-filled life – to be judged by a panel of Catholic bishops and the like – and you have to be nominated of course, but once you become a Saint after a long process, it’s an eternal gig. Pre-tty nice. (My concern is, if they really were saintly people, meaning they are beyond the pearly gates at this point, I can’t imagine they’d be particularly smitten by the honor seeing as they’re busy basking in the glory of God and sitting at His right hand. What could be more honorable or joyful than that? But I digress.)

The idea of Sainthood is astounding to me. I’ve seen how the Saints encourage and inspire. As a Franciscan Community Volunteer I have deepened my admiration particularly for Saint Francis of Assisi, who was definitely worthy of my admiration.  He was a Biblical yet strangely radical man who devoted his life to seeking solidarity with the poor, living simply and identifying with the marginalized.  Just like Jesus. He is definitely a hero to many and lived a life worthy of appreciation and awe.  More than anything else I think we relate to Saints so well just because they were humans like us, tempted like us, knew God intimately and glorified Him in their lives. But all those things apply to Jesus Christ as well. And why would I chose to follow after Saint Francis when I have the Creator of the universe who became flesh, for me, for just those reasons I gave?

That said, here’s my issue with the Saints: there can be a slippery slope to idolatry, where St. Peter takes the place of Christ. And it doesn’t happen overnight, so no one really notices that it’s happening, like all sin.  It’s slow and gradual, until you are seeking after a relationship with or worshiping St. Peter or Francis or whomever, rather than Jesus.  In the Franciscan order I see a lot of rose-tinted glasses when it comes to perceiving the Saints.  There seems to be an inappropriate hierarchy.  Does God not see us all similarly as Christians?  We are all perceived on the same playing field, especially when it comes to sin.  One particular act against God’s holiness is the same as another.  And, aren’t we all sinners?  Even if we have embraced Christ as our Savior and accepted that atonement, we still sin.  In the first book of John, it is written that if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.

I saw this today and it was a fresh reminder that the Saints, while no doubt had pleased God in their earthly lives in some way or another, were still human, were still broken, were still sinners.

Saint, n.  A dead sinner revised and edited.

– Ambrose Bierce, 1842-1914