Monday, November 1, 2010

On the Realism of the Saints

One of the accusations of the world against the Church is that she is out of touch with reality. The pragmatists say that our eyes raised to heaven keep us from seeing the reality of earth. The saints, who we honor today, are merely saccharine figures that are oblivious to the travails of the present life – the struggle to earn a daily living, the difficulties of making ends meet. Heaven, to these people, is simply an escape devised by religion – an escape from the real deal of day to day living.

But none can really be further from the truth. Saints had a share of what pragmatists call “reality”. The beatitudes give us categories for holiness. Looking at the list of the people whom the Lord calls blessed, one cannot help but notice that these people are not really living in ivory towers, oblivious of the difficulties of life on earth. For who could be more realist than the poor in spirit, or the hungry and thirsty for justice, or those who mourn? Who is more exposed to violence than the peacemaker or the merciful or the persecuted for righteousness’ sake? Who is more in touch with one’s humanity than the pure of heart? Could anything be more “real” than the beatitudes?

And yet, although the saints have been immersed in the sea of suffering which is the common lot of all humanity, they have risen above the seemingly hopeless human situation. When asked by the elder about the saints: “Who are these wearing white robes, and where did they come from?” the visionary of the Book of Revelation got the answer: “These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb.” The saints are the real survivors of the struggles of this life – not the artificially stranded people whose tasks consisted in games and contests, and definitely not housemates whose tasks veer toward stupidity and foolishness. The saints are the ones who have survived the great distress. They are the ones who have shown us the real stuff that our humanity is made of and meant for.

Fr. George Rutler has very deep insights about this matter: “The anthropocentric materialist is easily exploited because he does not see the whole picture: he sees only the temporal portion of the world which was given to him at Creation, and that is as obtuse as looking at a painting and seeing only paint. The celestial perspective is more organic than that. It cannot figure as ‘pie in the sky;’ it is why we enjoy the taste of pie on earth, and bless Heaven for us. It is not the silver cup at the end of a race; it is the race. Job called it warfare (7:1).” (G. Rutler, The Four Last Things, 175.)

To see the paint and to miss the painting – this is the shortsightedness that many pragmatists have condemned the world to. By concerning ourselves exclusively to functionality, we have lost sight of what is exalted in the human nature. “While the most humane and effective social institutions have been the work of people with their eyes on Heaven, the worst human catastrophes have been engineered by people with their eyes on the ground. Adjusting the scales of temporal justice without recourse to Heaven as the standard measure is…unreliable…The lack of adequate reference helped the carve…(the) contrast(s) between Margaret Sanger advocating the reduction of certain racial groups with Mother Teresa reclaiming the poorest of the poor. Miss Sanger did not succeed in solving the over-population of poor countries, although she prepared the way for what is becoming the underpopulation of rich countries. Mother Teresa has not increased starvation by rescuing infants, but she has identified a new impoverishment of the spirit in the best nourished societies. In tracing the progress of social justice, the one generalization which holds valid and which may be maintained without temerity is this: a reformer who does not hope to form souls for Heaven is quite likely to become a reformer with a vendetta” (Ibid., 177-178.).

“It is useless to reform the world until the world is first transformed. It is quite as futile to speak of doing anything to my world unless it is also done to me” (Ibid, 179.). Christ transformed the world through his death and resurrection. He transformed the world by making saints out of ordinary mortals. The Holy Spirit enabled the saints to raise their eyes to Heaven so that they could make sense of what they find on earth. The Holy Spirit revealed to the Saints and to us what the world does not know: the Father. Having known the Father, we know who we really are and for what we were meant to be: we are children of God and we are meant to be with Him in Heaven. This is the exalted vocation of our humanity. Life to us is more than food and clothing. That is why we do something more than just worry about what to eat and what to wear. “We are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope based on Him makes himself pure, as Christ is pure.” “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.”

1 comment:

  1. This posting on the saints practically has me standing up and cheering! It is so spot-on for making the Beatitudes applicable to today, and does a wonderful job of getting the Saints out of their ivory towers. Thanks for posting! ( I confess I am planning to borrow heavily for my All Saints Day sermon.)