The following short article was written in response to an article by Ann Marcaida, which was originally published on the website, “Gather”. Her article was titled, “Unconditional Love and a Modern-Day Saint”, and she recommended the writer and memoirist Deborah Digges for sainthood. This was written in support of her article and also originally published on “Gather”. She inaugurated the Losing Your Religion Sainthood Program and I hope to offer some thoughts that may strengthen her canonization work.
Ms. Marcaida did a first great deed in redeeming the idea of the saint by breaking away from the simplistic and inaccurate idea of saint as opposed to sinner, that is, Saints are “good” Sinners are “bad”. She broke away from that and turned our souls’ eyes to a person who loved beyond measure, someone who accepted her son as he was and gave abundantly of herself. This poet and memoirist expressed through her life what Ann Marcaida described as the definition of a saint: “For me, a saint is someone who discards self-preservation instincts and gives their resources freely and lovingly to others, often to the point of injuring themselves.”
And here is where we come to the idea of miracles.
The definition of a miracle, as we all know, is an act that defies the laws of nature, and the Catholic Churches tradition of what is required for sainthood is at least two confirmed miracles. Sainthood, by tradition, is therefore defined by a regular capacity to overcome the laws of nature. Our habitual mental materialism has the preconception that such break-throughs look like people walking on water or some other extraordinary physical magic. By this idea of what a miracle is, most comic book heroes would be saints! (“Hey, look, he can run so fast he doesn’t sink into water and defy gravity by flying into the air! He must be a saint!”)
This can’t possibly be what was meant by the word that was used to describe every single member of the early church, not to mention those devoted to the Highest described by the Psalmist. Outer magic is the concern of David Copperfield, not the saints. No, it is Ann Marcaida’s description of sainthood that reveals the true nature of the magical and what is really meant by “miracle”. Indeed, her definition is the definition of a miracle, only in other words: someone who discards self-preservation instincts and gives their resources freely and lovingly to others…The capacity to overcome self-preservation instincts (Nature) in sacrificial offering for another is what it truly means to be a miracle worker. In other words, to love is to break through the laws of nature. This is why John the Evangelist describes that the Divine Creator is in essence Love. Not sparkly hearts and puffy-sticker-butterfly-love. It is offer-out-of-the-core-of-my-being-for-your-own-becoming kind of love.
We need to go a step further to appreciate the full, radical nature of what this means.
Miracles (deeds of love) are deeds born of utter freedom (gives their resources freely and lovingly to others)…So miracles are creative acts, they bring something utterly original into the world. They originate in the being who acted and are not the result of some earlier action that was simply bound to happen. This creativity is the purview of the Divine, of God: God is Creator. Everything else is the creation. This means that to love is be truly creative and that anyone who freely loves is revealing the power of God at work in them. God revealed through human beings is another technical definition of Sainthood.
So in looking for those who qualify for sainthood we DO need to look for miracles in their life. We need to look for moments where this creative gift of love was present in them, revealing itself through their words, thoughts and deeds. If we understand miracle in this sense we will understand why all the true saints are miracle workers.
Ann saw this power shining through in what Deborah Digges was able to do for her son. Her weakness in taking her own life later on could never take anything away from her miracle, her gift. Which brings us to the last thought I would offer as a humble building block in our work to develop a new circle of saints:
all saints are sinners.
We should never let the fact that our saints not only reveal the spirit of selflessness but sometimes also the spirit of selfishness, deter us from recognizing the saints in our midst. That is part of our process right now – no one is all good or all evil and the saints are NOT those in whom only what is light filled and noble reside. They are simply those through whom the higher light has shone to a great degree during their life.
To this end I would submit a second, obvious choice: Dr. Martin Luther King.
He was ready to give his life for the dignity and liberty of humanity, lifting us up with inner uprightness through the practice of non-violent resistance. His marital infidelities or any other weaknesses should never cloud our vision of his sainthood. In fact, it will help us to recognize how saintly he really was. Knowing he had to wrestle, struggle and overcome himself and his desires for personal pleasures and comforts can reveal to us just how powerful a miracle worker he was. We wrestle with our weaknesses and sometimes they take the upper hand. Our triumphs are all the more stunning in light of the inner and outer battles we find ourselves in. The saints will be – for many lifetimes to come – the ones through whom the breath of a higher world breathes into our everyday lives despite themselves!
But all these thoughts are much to dangerous. Why? Because it would mean we are all capable of and called to sainthood.