Sail forth — steer for the deep waters only,
Reckless O soul, exploring, I with thee, and thou with me,
For we are bound where mariner has not yet dared to go
And we will risk the ship, ourselves and all.
— Walt Whitman
“I think my naiveté is my strength . . . I didn’t set out to start L’Arche. I think we do nothing in this world if we think we know what we’re doing.” — Jean Vanier
What is a Catholic saint? On the outside, it’s a servant of God recognized by the church as having enough heroic virtue to be declared venerable either by an act of heroic charity (martyr) or miraculous intercession (confessor) which in turn allows for blessed beatification. Then, with at least two posthumously confirmed miracles to their credit, it is someone who eternally enjoys the beatific vision as a saint, assigned a feast day and a mandate and who remains actively responsive to petitions and devotion of the faithful. Outside the Christian tradition, the Jewish tzadik, Islamic mu’min, Hindu swami or rishi, and Buddhist bodhisattva are also referred to as saints.
On the inside, there’s no such spiritual fame. A saint is characterized by unselfconscious surrender to guiding grace as their raison d’etre under any circumstances. A saint is not someone who has transcended the cares of this world, as in being “above it all.” Many saints, if you read their biographies, would probably be given some kind of diagnosis today from a psychological point of view.
So it’s not that they don’t suffer from the same flaws and defects in human nature that the rest of us do. What differentiates a saint is that none of the dysfunction, their own or that of others, has “the last word” or the power to define the true nature of a person. When it comes to the redemptive effects of love and grace, a saint has bet his or her life on the side that’s winning, in spite of any and all appearances to the contrary.
Someone once said that the difference between being buried and being planted is the expectation of what happens next. In a saint’s life, no matter how outwardly tortuous or inwardly tormented, darkness cannot overcome the light. In this sense, a saint can be “destroyed but not defeated,” as many of them have been, in terms of worldly well-being and survival. So we can look to saints, those who embody hope in their very being, to find our own way in a world gone wrong.
Whenever tempted to feel like a victim of circumstances, remember what every saint would want you to know: you are not named by sin or life situation. You are not named by what’s wrong with you. You are named by what’s right with you. You are guided by a divine pilot light within. In knowing the saints, you can trace back the radiance that inner flame creates.
“The purpose of Benedictine spirituality is to gather equally committed adults for a journey through earthen darkness to the dazzling light that already flames in each of us, but in a hidden place left to each of us to find.” — Joan Chittister
Speyer is a Benedictine Oblate as well as Clinical Supervisor of E-Counselling for a major employee & family assistance program and creative director, InnerView Guidance International (IGI). He holds master’s degrees in creative writing, counselling psychology, and education. As a pioneer of e-counselling in Canada, he developed and implemented a short-term counselling model for online practitioners, edited a textbook on the subject, and does related freelance writing. Speyer also directs a documentary series titled GuideLives for the Journey: Ordinary Persons, Extraordinary Pathfinders. http://www.guidelives.ca/