Those Who Let the Light Shine Through
THE JEW WHO BECAME A SAINT
Pope John Paul II has never been one to side step
controversy on certain
matters. Several years agao, he stood firm in the face of strong
and confirmed sainthood on Sister Teresia Benedicta, The Carmelite nun
was sent to the gas chambers at Auschwitz. The controversy centers on
she died a martyr for the Roman Catholic faith or because Sister
was formerly, Edith Stein, a renowned Jewish intellectual. The Jewish
and her family argue that she was executed for her heritage, the Pope
chosen to canonize her for both her heritage and her Catholic faith.
There is little doubt that Edith Stein was an
exceptional woman, as
both Jew and Catholic. She was born on Yom Kippur in 1891 to an
family in a part of Germany that is now within the boundaries of
She was a brilliant philosophy student who began her academic career as
an atheist. Edith became intrigued by Christian theology and inspired
Saint Teresa of Avila. Saint Teresa was a nun in the 1400s and wrote a
book on prayer entitled Interior Castles. She would later be the
for another woman who would become a nun, Mother Teresa.
After being denied a teaching post at a university
solely because she
was a woman, Edith took a position at a girl's school. She was forced
quit in 1933 when the Nazis issued a decree banning Jews from teaching
positions. Later that year she entered a Carmelite convent. When she
her vows, she offered her life in atonement for the sins of her
Jewish people. At the convent, she continued her philosophical and
writings. Among her admirers was a Polish priest, the Rev. Karol Joseph
Wojtyla who was later to become Pope John Paul II.
In 1938, she tried to flee to Switzerland to escape the
but remained in Germany because the Swiss convent did not have room for
her sister. On the day of her arrest, she told her sister, "Come Rosa,
we are going for our people."1
The canonization of Edith Stein served a two-fold
purpose for Pope John
Paul. The first was to seek redemption for the church's lethargic
during the Holocaust. Rather than take a prophet role and risk
the voice of the Church was silent. Pope John Paul has also sought to
the base of the church by canonizing and beautifying people from many
cultures and ethnic backgrounds. He has beautified over 800 and
with sainthood over 300. This year alone, he has beautified 37 and
5, far more than any of his predecessors.
SAINTHOOD IN REFORMED THEOLOGY
The old Reformers were greatly troubled by the
Roman Catholic concept
of sainthood, John Calvin, Martin Luther and John Knox were concerned
the veneration of the dead and "transferring to the dead what properly
belonged to God and Christ."2 They also argued that
the concept of
should not be used as a sort of spiritual Hall of Fame for the giants
As a boy, I grew up 20 miles from Canton OH, the home of
the NFL's Hall
of Fame. I still remember my one visit. I thought that I was in a
temple. Enclosed in glass casing lay the relics of fame and glory -
footballs, shoes, and pads. The pictures of the men whose
were the stuff of legends hung on the walls. I stood before them with
mouth open in awe and thinking that I was not worthy to even gaze upon
them. These were the men I revered, athletes who possessed physical
and abilities greater than mine.
Some prefer to elevate sainthood to the select few. It
allows them to
put the relics and memories of their lives into glass cases thereby
a safe distance. It also allows them to feel less responsibility and
to emulate their lives. It frees people from having to strive for
It allows them to hold onto their idiosyncrasies, their bad habits, and
their prejudices. By saying that sainthood is only for the super
it excuses the inexcusable.
That is why I commend Pope John Paul for his efforts to
scope of sainthood but encourage him to stretch his parameters even
WE ARE ALL ORDINARY SAINTS
In Paul's letter to the church in Ephesus, he uses
the word saint twice
to refer to the whole community of faith. Every church consists of
ordinary people who have been called by Jesus Christ to live sanctified
lives, lives that are so caught up in the plans of God that they are
A Presbyterian minister was asked to define the word
saint. He stated
that a saint was someone whose life manages to be more than a "cranny
which the infinite peeps." A saint is someone who is able to allow the
magnificent wonder of the eternal to break forth in the mundane of
existence. They are people who walk solidly on earth while still
their course by a heavenly reality.3
Today is All Saints Day. In the Reformed tradition, it
is a day to remember
and give thanks not just for the Hall of Famers, but for all those
who have gone before us, men and women who did common ordinary things
live out the gospel in their day-to-day lives.
JUST LET THE LIGHT SHINE THROUGH
A college professor brought his little son to the
school Chapel on
a bright, sunny day. The sunshine shown through the numerous stained
windows. The father said to his little boy, "Those windows show
of the saints. Do you know who the saints are?"
The little boy, looking up at the brilliant windows,
said, "Yes. The
saints are the ones who the sun shines through." He was right. The
are people who the Son shines through. Saints are those who embody the
truth of Jesus teaching - the ones who are poor and hungry, mourn with
others in pain and are persecuted for defending the cause of justice.4
From my experience we need more "ordinary saints" who
just let the sun
shine through their daily lives. People who will never have a day
to honor them, but who were willing to live out the divine mysteries of
their faith in the ordinary course of events. People like that, are the
ones who really make a difference, the ones who are willing to be poor,
to be humble, to be merciful, to be peacemakers.
I remember lying in the hospital bed during my bone
somewhat dazed and confused by the morphine. (Carol and the girls can
you stories of my hallucinations. I do not remember them.). Twice a day
the medical team would make their rounds to assess the patients'
health to determine if any adjustments were necessary in treatment. The
MDs displayed good body language at my bedside to convey respect and
They listened attentively to my answers and took time to address all of
my questions. They were very professional in every interaction, but I
felt that a barrier existed between us. They were models of medical
exemplary in conduct and highly compete in their specialty but they
could not minister to my inner soul during a time when it was really
The people who really ministered to me were the nurses
and nursing assistants.
They were the ones who stayed by my bedside in the darkness of the
after I awoke from nightmarish hallucinations. They were the ones who
me during the long days when my motivation began to wane. They were the
"ordinary saints" who really ministered to me at the most critical
of my recovery. In my opinion, the church needs more "ordinary saints"
who will minister to others. We need more people who will sit with a
while his wife is having an angioplasty. We need more people who will
a family whose father has died to a holiday dinner. We need more people
who will visit people who live alone.
I can appreciate the challenges that MDs confront. They
see so many
patients each day who are struggling for life and in severe pain. And
of those patients will die in spite of the great advances in modern
They are exposed to so much hurt and pain that they get worn down. To
themselves they must maintain an impersonal distance from their
That is what is so amazing about those "ordinary saints" who keep
out to others in pain each and every day. They do not let the cares of
this world wear them down. They refuse to allow barriers to be erected
that would isolate themselves from hurting people. No matter how much
and grief they have seen, they are still willing to reach out and touch
a life with love.
On this All Saints Day, I give thanks for all the
to those individuals who have gone on before us who have let the light
shine through their lives. I also give thanks to those of you who are
in food banks, tutoring in the schools, visiting in the hospitals,
with youth or in some other way living out the teachings of our Lord.
church should always remember the Francis of Assissis, the Edith
Steins and the Mother Teresas of the faith but the church should
also remember the "ordinary saints" who just let the light shine
1 Alessandra Stanley, "A Jew's
Odyssey From Catholic
Nun to Saint" NY Times, Oct 11, 1998.
2 John Calvin, Calvin:Institutes of the
Christian Religion, ed. John
T. McNeill, (Phildadelphia: Westminister Press, 1960), p. 881.
3 Adopted from William H. Williamon,
"Saints, All of You" Pulpit
Vol. 26 No. 4 p. 20 citing Thomas G. Long, "Preaching in the Middle of
a Saintly Conversion," The Journal of Preachers, Lent, 1995, pp.
4 William H. Williamon, "Saints, All of
You" Pulpit Resource, Vol.
26 No. 4 p. 21.