Thursday, May 5, 2011

Why Without the Saints We’re Incomplete

I wrote only yesterday, and I’ve written before, that the Saints convinced me to become a Catholic. Why do Protestants ignore the Saints? Is it because they are the best proof of the existence of one universal catholic and apostolic church? People say Anglicans are ABC, all but Catholic. But not even the Anglicans honor the Saints as we Catholics do. I used to be one. I know.

Re-reading volume 1 of Pope Benedict’s work on Jesus of Nazareth today, I was struck by a reflection on the Saints, using St. Francis of Assisi as a model. While discussing the Beatitudes (pp. 78-79), the Pope writes: 

The saints are the true interpreters of Holy Scripture. 

What an amazing statement! I thought the Magisterium of the Church was the final interpreter of Scripture, an idea that Protestants flatly reject, of course. But “my Pope” is after something deeper here:

The meaning of a given passage of the Bible becomes most intelligible in those human beings who have been totally transfixed by it and have lived it out. Interpretation of Scripture can never be a purely academic affair, and it cannot be relegated to the purely historical. Scripture is full of potential for the future, a potential that can only be opened up when someone “lives through” and “suffers through” the sacred text.

The saints are our witnesses to the truth—the living, lived truth—of Scripture. Here comes Francis . . .

Francis of Assisi was gripped in an utterly radical way by the promise of the first Beatitude, to the point that he even gave away his garments and let himself be clothed anew by the bishop, the representative of God’s fatherly goodness, through which the lilies of the field were clad in robes finer than Solomon’s (cf. Mt 6:28–29). For Francis, this extreme humility was above all freedom for service, freedom for mission, ultimate trust in God, who cares not only for the flowers of the field but specifically for his human children. It was a corrective to the Church of his day . . . It was the deepest possible opennes to Christ, to whom Francis was perfectly configured by the wounds of the stigmata, so perfectly that from then on he truly no longer lived as himself, but as one reborn, totally from and in Christ. 

Then, characteristically, the Pope brings the saints, and Francis in particular, into the normal human realm, out of the supernatural, the saintly, to something I can take home for myself, “living in the world” as I do:

By creating the Third Order, though, Francis did accept the distinction between radical commitment and the necessity of living in the world. The point of the Third Order is to accept with humility the task of one’s secular profession and its requirements, wherever one happens to be, while directing one’s whole life to that deep interior communion with Christ that Francis showed us.

“To own goods as if you owned nothing” (cf. i Cor 7:29ff.)—to master this inner tension, which is perhaps the more difficult challenge, and, sustained by those pledged to follow Christ radically, truly to live it out ever anew—that is what the third orders are for. And they open up for us what this [third] Beatitude can mean for all. It is above all by looking at Francis of Assisi that we see clearly what the words “Kingdom of God” mean. Francis stood totally within the Church, and at the same time it is in figures such as he that the Church grows toward the goal that lies in the future, and yet is already present: The Kingdom of God is drawing near. . . . 

Could any be simpler or more challenging? I don’t need exegesis. I need experience, a witness. And so I look at Francis.

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