As we begin the Year of St Paul, Alan Schreck assists us in our appreciation of the saints as the greatest educators.
The greatest teachers of the Catholic Church are her saints. True, many of them were not articulate or great preachers, and some were even illiterate. Nevertheless, they are recognised as ‘saints’ because their lives provide us with the clearest and the best instruction in what the Christian life is all about. And what is it all about? In a single word: Holiness, which means becoming like God in character and virtue. What does holiness look like? We see it most perfectly displayed in the Son of God incarnate (God among us in person, or literally ‘in the flesh’), Jesus Christ. But a nearly perfect reflection of holiness, the character and virtue of God himself, is seen in the saints. The saints teach us most fully what God intended us all to be and to become - truly God-like.
If we look at the ‘reflection’ of God in the saints, we don’t find just a single image or portrait, but a marvellous collage of images of God and his love as different as the sun and the moon, or as mountains and the ocean. There were saints who were kings and queens, and beggars; great intellectuals, and simple priests (like St. John Vianney) who couldn’t learn their Latin; girls and boys and octogenarians; world-traversing missionaries and mystics in their cloisters; bloodstained martyrs and ‘clowns’ of God (like St. Philip Neri). There were soldiers (from St. George to St. Joan), prophets and prophetesses, religious foundresses and mothers, servants of the poor and needy...yes, and even some who were teachers by profession. What they all have in common is a passionate love of God that grew in their souls and finally burst into full blossom. Marvellously, there is a saint for everybody - some saint whose life and experience will uniquely touch a particular person and open them more fully to God. The saints remind us of what we are all made for.