Ordinary Time 27, Year C
- Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord (Lk. 1:38)
Several weeks ago I heard Father Jude Siciliano, O.P., recount the story of Sunday School kids being asked the question, “What is a saint?” One confident reply was, “Saints are people through whom the light shines.” It was apparently given by someone who quickly remembered being told, while looking at stained glass windows in a church one day, that the people pictured in those windows were saints.
There is more to the reply, of course, than the literal meaning intended by the Sunday School student. The student probably never imagined, much less intended, the fuller meaning of the reply. But surely out of the lips of such a child God has drawn for all his children the teaching that saints are signs of revelation (cf. Ps. 8:2).
Saints do not point to themselves. Rather, they point to God. Through them shines the light of revelation and thus it becomes less difficult, if not easier, for others to believe in God. Because of the saints’ transparency, other human beings are enlightened. Genuine saints never ever block the light or contribute to other people not seeing better than they can or should.
Because they do not call attention to themselves but to God, saints do not attribute accomplishments to themselves but rather to God. They, therefore, do not engage in self-congratulation. The song saints sing is one of praise of the holy name of the Mighty One, who looks with favor on his lowly servants and does great things for them (Lk. 1:46-55). Those whose song is one of self-congratulation only show—if I may borrow from the Common Rules, XII, 3—that they are ending up in the flesh though they may have begun in the Spirit (cf. also XII, 4 and 9).
Not that St. Vincent advises that one not take notice of progress made in the acquisition of virtues or the overcoming of vices. I would think the two types of daily examination of conscience he recommends in the Common Rules, X, 9, presuppose taking notice of either progress or the lack of it. What St. Vincent makes clear, however, is that anyone noticing he has made some progress should be thankful to the Lord for it and should ask him the grace to progress further in the future. He states clearly, moreover, that “we must get it firmly into our heads that when we have carried out all we have been asked to do, we should, following Christ’s advice, say to ourselves that we are useless servants, that we have done what we were supposed to do, and that, in fact, we could not have done anything without him” (Common Rules, XII, 14).
Such a humble service, proper of a slave, is demanded by the faith whereby the just lives, the faith that does not permit the believer to shrink back (cf. Heb. 10:38). For such faith is firm and overcomes all obstacles, yielding to the God who—as was the case with Abraham’s faith relationship with God—demands blind obedience and unflinching total surrender, and issues commands that appear to either undermine even the very promises made or put their fulfillment on hold indefinitely (cf. Heb. 11).
Such faith, too, disposes the believers to offer, from their poverty, their whole livelihood (cf. Lk. 21:1-4). It asks believers to renounce and spurn the kind of arrogant and self-congratulatory comparison that was made by one supposedly praying, “O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity—greedy, dishonest, adulterous—or even like this tax collector,” and to show appreciation instead for the humble posture of the believer who confesses, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner”(cf. Lk. 18:9-14). Insignificant that true believers take themselves to be and yet ending up justified in their lowliness, they thereby prove the point that even the faith that is the size of the tiniest of seeds can result in wonders like, maybe, the uprooting of the mulberry tree of poverty with its huge root system and its notorious and inveterate intractability. Believers with such faith have, without doubt, the strength that comes from God and are enabled, therefore, to bear their share of hardship for the gospel.
And let it not be left unsaid that such faith does not leave any room for some sort of a quid pro quo deal, since the just who live by faith know better than to think that God is obligated to them. After all, true faith makes believers humbly accept that that they are not God’s equal; rather he is their creator and redeemer and that, therefore, they are obligated to him and should humbly consider committed service of God to be their privilege and pleasure (cf. the InterVarsity Press commentary at ).
Their privilege, yes, and their pleasure—even if committed service means definitely that their Master must increase and they, the servants, must decrease (cf. Jn. 3:30). True servants are saints: the Light shines through them.