Today we celebrate the feast of St Peter and St Paul two
of the greatest heroes of our faith. St Peter the first
among the Apostles and St Paul the great evangelist of
When we are thinking about saints it is a common mistake to think that they are supposed to be perfect examples of humanity without any faults or failings. We often use the expression ‘plaster-cast saints’ to imply that the saints are stuck at a particular point in time and can do no wrong because actually they do nothing.
We often think that such people can only become saints because they have no responsibilities or tension in their lives. We think of saints like Teresa of Lisieux and assume that because she was locked away in a convent that meant that she had nothing to do all day and so it was quite easy for her to become holy enough to become a saint.
Two minutes serious thinking will tell you that assumptions of this sort can never be correct. Actually we know that none of the saints were perfect and quite often they had huge obstacles in life to overcome.
Looking at two of the greatest saints, namely St Peter and St Paul, we immediately see how this is true. St Peter was certainly no model of perfection; he denied Christ three times, betraying him at the most crucial moment of all. Often enough he was extremely impatient and impetuous and at the beginning he frequently misunderstood Christ’s message of love.
St Paul was an avid persecutor of Christians and at the time of his conversion he was hurrying to Damascus to initiate the extermination of the Christians living in that city. All his life he suffered from ambition and he certainly was not very easy to get on with.
So suffering from human failings never has been a barrier to becoming a saint. But what differentiates a saint from a sinner is that sinners stay where they are, sunk in sin; but saints try to grapple with their weaknesses and make serious attempts to overcome them.
Let us be clear about it, we are all sinners; or at least that is where we start from. But gradually through the lessons we learn in life we become aware of our imperfections and personal weaknesses. Once we are aware of our flaws we can start to overcome these things which are holding us back from reaching our true potential as human beings.
The point is that a saint doesn’t have to have achieved perfection but has to be on the road. A saint is someone who is constantly working on their faults and weaknesses, someone who has overcome some of them and who is trying to overcome those that remain.
One problem from what I am saying is that it might seem as though all this is focused principally on the self; on what we do, on the steps we take, and on the act of will we make in order to overcome our faults.
But this is not how the real saints see things. Yes, they know that personal effort is required and that this must be preceded by an objective insight into the nature of our personal failings. But most important of all, they recognize that perfection cannot be achieved by ourselves. They realize that it is only God acting in us who can eliminate sin and fill us with a real depth of holiness.
True saints believe that they are utterly hopeless and that it is only God working in their lives that can bring them to heaven. For this reason they place their whole lives in his care and go in the direction he leads. It is this handing over of their lives to God that actually makes them great saints.
By understanding this we quickly realize that absolutely anyone can become a saint. It is open to everyone regardless of their intellectual ability. It is something for the poor and the rich; it is something for the weak and the strong, something for the high and the lowly.
Not only this but we realize that it should be the ambition of everyone. I say this because by gradually facing up to our faults over the whole course of our lives we become better and better human beings. A saint, you see, is not an angel but a fully developed human being. And the more fully developed human beings there are in the world the better for us all.
And I don’t say that the saints manage to eliminate their faults but that they face up to them. Our faults are deeply ingrained in us and are not easily overcome and surely some of them never can be conquered. But we can face them, we can acknowledge them, we can acquire self-knowledge and so begin the task of eradicating them even if we never finish it.
In confession some people apologize for confessing the same sins over and over again. But there is no need for apology. Usually such people have over the years acquired deep personal insight and know their particular faults intimately.
They are familiar with their sins, with their personal weaknesses, and they know how difficult they are to overcome; they are sorry for these faults and want to be rid of them. They use the opportunity of the Sacrament of Reconciliation to explore these faults with the priest gradually trying to find a way of overcoming them.
This is actually a cause for great joy. Such people have acquired self-knowledge and they are working on their individual defects and in confession they are asking for God’s grace so that they may be freed from these sins that hold them back so much.
When I was studying for the priesthood our rector told us that when hearing confessions we would often be astonished at the holiness of the penitents. He said that he had heard many confessions from simple working people that were on a par with the highest contemplatives. After thirty years as a priest I have discovered for myself that he was absolutely right.
We are, all of us, on the road to sanctity. The road to heaven is the road of holiness and this road passes through the achievement of our human potential. To be a saint is not to be a plaster-cast statue without feelings or emotion. No, to be a saint is to be a fully functioning human being. To be a saint is to be an attractive person filled with goodness and truth and love.
St Peter and St Paul were both flawed human beings who faced up to their human weaknesses and who placed their journey to fulfillment in the hands of God. We could do no better than to take them as our example and inspiration.
Digest of Articles from Catholics Blogs and Websites
June 28, 2015
Thirteenth Sunday: The Results of Sin
Today’s readings deal with topics we Americans, and perhaps people everywhere, would rather avoid. The readings deal with sickness and death. We do our best to avoid sickness and death. That’s reasonable. But there is much in us that is afraid of sickness and death. We do our best to avoid talking about them. That is not reasonable. That’s a denial of reality. We have such a hard time with these topics that we have created stories tone down the reality. So, when a baby dies or a child, like the child we call Talitha in the Gospel dies, we say, “God must have wanted another angel with Him in heaven.” This is not true. God doesn’t go around killing babies and little children because his angel inventory is low. And besides, the whole concept of people becoming angels after they die is a complete fabrication. Angels are different beings than human beings, including dead human beings. Human beings do not become angels and angels do not become human beings. Parents also make a huge mistake when they tell their little children that Grandpa died because God wanted him to be in heaven with him. Often they have to deal with a child who has become angry with God for killing Grandpa.
Thirteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time
Mark 5: 21–43
A synagogue official named Jairus pleads with Jesus to cure his daughter, who is at the point of death. While on the way to the official’s house, a woman afflicted with hemorrhages for twelve years comes through the large crowd that is following Jesus, and touches his cloak. She is instantly cured. Jesus, aware that power had gone out of him, asks, “Who has touched my clothes?” The woman in fear and trembling tells him that it was she.
Jesus says to her, “Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace and be cured of your affliction.”
Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B—June 28, 2015
In today’s Gospel, Jesus gives life to the living dead and to the literally dead. What is common to both healings?
Gospel (Read Mk 5:21-43)
St. Mark gives us a story within a story in this account of Jesus and two people for whom He worked miracles of healing. The story begins with a desperate father, Jairus. His daughter was gravely ill, to the point of death. Casting all propriety aside (he was, after all, a “synagogue official”), he fell at Jesus’ feet and “pleaded earnestly with Him.” Jairus was confident that if Jesus would only lay His hands on the child, she would “get well and live.” Jesus, along with a large crowd of onlookers, “went off with him.”