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When I was a child I came across a wonderful riddle: what’s the furthest distance you can see? I thought about standing on a flat desert, how far it would be to the horizon, forgetting of course, that standing on a desert and looking up you can see stars millions of miles away. Our horizons, our way of looking at things, are often limited.

We are in the season of the saints. And when we think about saints the temptation is to be limited in our thinking. We think of saints as the sorts of people in the stained glass of church windows, people who were very holy, deeply religious, who did marvellous and wonderful deeds inspired by their faith. But there is another and less limited way of thinking about saints. Imagine you’re standing in the desert. Saints are like those who, standing in the desert, look up. Limited by their human frame, limited by time, they nevertheless can see, appreciate and understand the vastness, the immeasurable greatness of faith, of God all in all. A bit like that wonderful comment of Oscar Wilde: we are all of us in the gutter – but some of us are looking at the stars. Saints are like those who, standing in the gutter can see the stars. Saints somehow know the vastness of God’s love, majesty and beauty in the narrow frame of their lives.

To be sure, the saints of our history are a motley crew. Some are indeed great heroes and heroines of the faith: people who inspire us, who showed tremendous courage, who lived lives of contemplation, goodness or love. Others seem to be called saints because they were of the nobility, bishops who re-organised dioceses, abbots who built monasteries. And some are, to be truthful, a little odd, or even, dare we say, not very pleasant.

But perhaps that’s the point. Holiness, saintliness, is less about innate goodness of the individual, but more about the manner in which, whatever the nature of their character, they point us to a larger vision of God. Or that somehow, even if they were a bit odd, or not always terribly nice, they inspired others to look up, see God, and live eternally-shaped lives within a finite world. They invite us to see beyond the limits of our mortality, see the eternal dimensions of life that, in daily existence, we ignore or forget.

Even those who are poor, who have little, who are fragile in life are, as Jesus says, blessed, are holy, saintly when they recognise the riches of God within them.

The blessed, the holy, the saintly, live out eternal life within the limited framework and fabric of their daily lives, and invite others to do the same. And, as followers of Jesus, we are called to do the same.

And so we can celebrate the people we call saints: those who encourage us, by their word and example to see beyond the limitations of our mortality, to glimpse the glory of God.

And as we celebrate them, so we are invited to emulate them, aspire to be like them in that regard. Quirky, brave, ordinary, righteous, organised, spontaneous – whoever we are and however we might describe ourselves, our common calling (in common with those we call saints) is to notice and to enable others to notice the eternal, God-shaped dimensions of life. To stand in the desert, or the gutter, and point people to the stars.

All of us are in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars. We might pray that the eyes of our heart may be open, to know the height and depth and length and breadth of God’s love in our limited frame. We might pray that we will be attentive to where God is, in our daily life. For we are called to be holy, even as the saints whose names we hold in honour – to live that eternal life, full of love, wonder, glory and delight, even in the ordinariness of now.

Questions:

  • Who are your favourite saints from history, and why?
  • What are the qualities you would most like to offer the world around you, as a Christian?
  • What sort of things help you to live a godly life day by day? What are the difficulties you encounter?
  • Can you think of a time when you really sensed the presence of the eternal God in your daily life? How might you put that into words for someone else