Lessons from the Lives of the Saints
When we contemplate the lives of the saints, we are sometimes inclined to ask, what sustained them amidst the distractions of their lives? How could these men and women remain in a state of communion of with God? How could they continually center their thoughts, prayers and contemplations on Jesus Christ? We could read about them and say that many of the saints over the past 20 centuries lived monastic lives and were without the distractions that most of us face on a daily basis. If we look at this honestly, it becomes obvious that the distractions and cares of the world are a blessing in disguise. The monastic does not have these worldly concerns, but without them, the monastic must continually face themselves. They must constantly take stock of their spiritual lives. Those of us living in the world have the distractions of the world that we can use to insulate ourselves from where we are spiritually.
Monastics are not the only saints. Among the panoply of saints we can find numerous examples of married individuals who also lead exemplary lives centered on Christ. Regardless if the saint is monastic or not, how did they become saintly? How did they keep centered on Christ? What compels them to follow a life that to the world sometimes appears to be one of self-deprivation?
In the 3rd chapter of Book of Wisdom we read the souls of the virtuous are in the hands of God, no torment shall ever touch them (Wisdom 3:1). And further in the 5th chapter of Wisdom we read the virtuous live forever, their recompense lies with the Lord, the Most High (Wisdom 5:15). In the Book of Isaiah God refers to these virtuous as witnesses to God, the Almighty One (Isaiah 43:10). Saint Paul in his letter to the Hebrews writes that we are all surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1). Earlier in the letter to the Hebrews, St. Paul lists the various tortures and ways that many of these witnesses met their death. What sustained them all was their faith in God. This is what distinguishes the saints from others. They are true witnesses to Jesus Christ and His life saving mission here on earth. They lived their lives as witnesses to the faith and those saints alive today follow the same path. Faith sustains them. Faith guides them. Faith anchors them. Faith directs their every waking hour and their time at sleep as well.
Except for the saints who turned their lives from evil to Christ such as St. Mary of Egypt and St. Moses the Ethiopian, the lives of the saints seem to describe superhuman beings. The stories of their lives could lead one to believe that these saints were as perfect as anyone could be, perhaps even perfect from the womb. Many of the saints seem to have lived on a plane, which the average mortal can never go. On reading the lives of the saints, it would appear that doubts never creep into their minds and souls. Sometimes the stories seem to imply that these saintly men and women never doubted their faith. How could someone who is at such a lofty plain ever have doubts about their faith? But, could this be true?
We all, the saints included have been created with a Free Will and a questioning nature. Each of us experience moments of doubts. It is what we do with this doubt that matters. If we allow doubt to consume us and to direct us away from our faith, then we have chosen doubt as our guide. Doubt then has become the road away from faith. St. John of Kronstadt wrote that doubt is Evil One working against us. He wrote that we should flee with all your power from doubt, unbelief and the passions through which the evil serpent, the thief and destroyer of our souls creeps in.
Consider St. Peter. Here is a man who can't open his mouth without thrusting his foot beyond his vocal cords. Upon seeing Jesus walking on the sea, St. Peter, doubting his vision says "Lord, if it is you, bid me come to you on the water". He said, "Come." So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus; but when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, "Lord, save me." Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, "O man of little faith, why did you doubt?" (Matthew 14:28-31) Despite this show of doubt, Jesus did not eject Peter from his chosen twelve, but He continued to nurture and teach him along with the other disciples. Even after rejecting the Saviour, Peter was forgiven by Christ. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you. (Mark 16:7). In a wonderful show of love, Christ sends a message to Peter that though Peter doubted and denied knowing Christ, his tears have shown that he is truly repentant.
During the summer months, we will commemorate several saints. Among these are the great Apostles Peter and Paul, St. John of Kronstadt, and St. John of San Francisco. Their lives may be different, and the times they lived in might not be the same, but their focus was the same. These saints and the numerous unknown saints are beacons of light guiding us and praying with us. They intercede for us. They are truly friends and helpmates. While summer means vacation for many, we should take time to learn of these saints. We should read about their lives and see the trials and tribulations they endured. Some were reviled and rejected by their brothers, but they never lost their faith.
St. Patrick of Ireland wrote a beautiful prayer with which he greeted the Lord every morning. In his prayer, St. Patrick acknowledged God's works in his life and thanked the Lord for his faith.
I arise todayThrough God's strength to pilot me;God's might to uphold me, God's
wisdom to guide me, God's eye to look before me, God's ear to hear me, God's word
to speak for me.
Like the Apostle to Ireland, let us arise each morning and give thanks for all the gifts we have been given and will be given by Almighty God. Let us give thanks for the saints and for gift of faith that the Holy Spirit has imparted to them and to us. As the lives of the saints demonstrate, through thick and thin, through storm and fair weather, through good times and bad, it is faith that sustains us.
- Fr. Paul Stoll