Last weekend two popes were canonized by the Roman Catholic Church, John XXIII and John Paul II. Clearly they both provided important leadership in the church and the world. I appreciated reading some of the summaries of their lives and their contributions. (See this excellent article by James Martin from the Wall Street Journal.)
As a Baptist I always find the canonization process a little odd. In my tradition, we don’t have “saints.” I’m more inclined to look at saints in our midst: everyday people, but the kind of people you want to be around. Something about them shines through. They don’t have halos you can see, but their actions produce fruit in the lives of those around them. Edwin Friedman used to say that the biggest gift you give in leadership is the nature of your presence. It’s true even of those who might not think of themselves as leaders. Saints have presence.
I visited a saint recently: a woman in my church who can’t get to church, but still mails bulletins to shut-ins with encouraging notes. I have saved several of the notes she has written me. She doesn’t complain. She truly loves everyone even when she disagrees with their beliefs or doesn’t like their behavior. She prays regularly for many people. By my lights, she’s a saint.
I met another saint on my 14th birthday. His name was Mr. Thelin, was a friend of a missionary who was visiting our home. He had a killer smile and an openness of spirit. When he discovered it was my birthday he gave me a twenty-dollar bill (over $115 in today’s dollars). I was stunned and touched by his generosity. I’ve never forgotten him.
Sometimes communities are full of saints. One of my favorite movies is Weapons of the Spirit, by Pierre Sauvage about the village of Le Chambon in France, which saved many Jews from the Nazis. They allow their faith rather than fear to dictate their behavior. The movie is inspiring.
Look around in your own church. Who are the most open, generous, positive and inspiring people in your congregation? Go see them. Bask in their glow and be inspired. Learn from them.
What saints do you know?