On the feast of saints, and indeed on all solemn festivals, the Sunday order of celebrations is followed, although the psalms, refrains, and readings proper to the day itself are said. The procedure, however, remains the same as indicted above.
The word saint is very much a biblical name. In Christian scripture, it is a name used for all those who are Christian, those who have embraced Christ and are growing in the Christ-life. During the persecutions of the early church, those who were killed because they were Christian, those who became martyrs, were recognised, even after death, as still a part of the Christian community, as still saints.
Over time, Christians observed that some within their communities, in presence and action, were more obviously reflective of the Christ-life; they were not perfect, just clearly, in their own unique ways, loving and loveable: Christ-like. During their earthly lives they inspired and affected others. After death, whether they be martyrs or not, their presence and example continued. They too were seen as an ongoing part of the Christian community.
Over time, saints became earthly and heavenly. Death came to be seen more clearly as no barrier to the presence and inspiration of fellow Christians. It became important to remember those saints who inspired and still inspired, who lived and lived on in the Christ-life. In this part of the Rule, Benedict outlines a way the community can do this remembering. A saint’s anniversary, the anniversary of their final death and rising in Christ, is a day akin to a Sunday – the day on which the resurrection of Jesus is remembered and celebrated.
Scripture reminds us that we are saints and the tradition of Christian life reminds us that we can become saints. Is there a contradiction here? There is a paradox at work; something is being revealed about the human and Christian life: we already are what we can become.
Perhaps an analogy can help us here, one of a diamond. Is an uncut diamond still a diamond? Yes, it is. It becomes more obviously a diamond as it is cut; its uniqueness and brilliance shines through its facets. It is the same with us as saints: as we are cut and polished, the saint we already are becomes more and more obvious, in all brilliance and uniqueness. The question then becomes are we allowing ourselves to be cut and polished? Any commitment to a school of love, to a community, will be a commitment to this cut and polish; so too our commitment to meditation.
Any practice in life that has us losing egocentricity and living more as our loving selves is a grace-full exercise in cutting and polishing. Yes, this exercise can be painful, and yes it can be revealing, both of our brilliance and our folly. The journey of sainthood is thoroughly human. What makes the journey saintly is the many ways success and failure become ways through which our loving selves are lived and revealed. A saint being revealed is a Christian who keeps saying yes to the many ways grace shapes their humanity. This shaping, this cutting and polishing, happens every day in every ordinary decision to be kind and loving. In these decisions we become and are revealed as ourselves.
Maybe we don’t know how to engage this journey, to be in the process of our own cutting and polishing. Perhaps we avoid it. What can then happen is a projecting onto others the saint we are and could become. Saints then become a kind of ‘spiritual celebrity’: others living the lives we never could. Self-honesty, an essential ingredient for any journey into wholeness (or holiness), is lost. We lose touch with the divine power at work in all the saints. Contemplative practice reconnects us with this power, it enlightens the eyes of the heart, enabling self-honesty.
I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. (Ephesians 1:15-19, NRSV)