What makes a saint a saint? I recently read about the canonization of two previous popes John XXIII and John Paul II. Dignitaries and dictators like Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, Polish Solidarity leader Lech Walesa, and Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk attended the ceremony together with more than 90 foreign delegates. Of course, the event was not without a few hiccups. It was met with some protests.
The election of Pope John XXIII was challenged because he was one miracle short of sainthood. You see, according to protocol, after the candidate's demise, there must be at least two miracles attributed to the evocation of his name. But Pope John XXIII only had one. As for Pope John Paul II, he was accused of turning a blind eye to the Catholic priest sex scandals. The controversy shadowed his papal authority and leadership for years and even persisted after his death. However, it did not stop Pope Francis from proceeding with the ceremony. This led me to the question, "Who is a saint?" or "Who qualifies as one?"
My thoughts drifted to the good Samaritan story in the Bible. This parable is familiar to us. The victim of a robbery was left for dead when a Priest and a Levite passed him by without helping. Then came the hero of the story, an outcast, a Samaritan. He tended to his wounds, pouring oil and wine on it, put him on his donkey, and paid for his recuperation in an Inn. Now, is that the definition of a saint? Well, the spirit of it clearly is.
Applying this parable to my life, I can't say that I have been a good Samaritan all the time. Sometimes, I felt like the Priest or the Levite as I conveniently passed a chance to do good because I was too busy or did not want to bring attention to myself. At other times, I played the part of the good Samaritan because people I know were watching. I guess all of us desire to be known as the good Samaritan to our friends and not the hypocritical Priest or Levite.
But let's add a twist to the parable here. What if the Levite or the Priest were rushing to a burning synagogue nearby to save two dozens children trapped inside and they therefore had no time to stop for the victim? Does it make them less of a saint? Or what if they came to the victim's aid because members of their temple were watching, what can we say about their heart then? Consider another twist. What if the Priest or the Levite felt guilty after walking away and later promised themselves that they would help the next time round, would that qualify them as saints by genuine repentance?
My point? I think at most times, we are all three rolled into one, that is, Samaritan, Priest and Levite. Being a Samaritan at all times is a tall order for us and not being one when the opportunity avails itself does not mean that we will never become one in the near future. It is really a lifetime trial of net results (between Samaritan and Priest/Levite) that ultimately count.
When the late Nelson Mandela was praised for being saint-like, he quickly dismissed it and said that he was not a saint. Unless a saint means a sinner who keeps on trying, then he is not a saint, so said the great leader. This is another way of looking at it. Here is a man who knows himself. He knows the limits of his abilities. He knows the weakness of human nature. He has no illusions about it. Fame, power and wealth are not the real thing. They are like beauty that fades, metal that rusts, and stocks that lose value.
The point about Mandela's admission is that saints do exist and if anything, he comes closest to one. Hands down. But it is not in the embodiment of perfection that makes up sainthood. I think the revolutionary leader had another thing in mind. Sainthood to him is not about an unblemished life. It is not about keeping up with a surrealistic image that the North Korean leaders, for example, would desperately want their desolated people to believe in. That false image is their leader's mythical birth, their larger-than-life persona and their deity-like leadership. All of which, we all know are nothing but the vain mirages of power.
I believe Mandela's life shows that if you seek it, you will surely find saints living among you. But your search in high and prominent places will mostly result in disappointment. You see, the life of a saint is largely hidden from the public glare. It is seldom televised, entombed in awards or written about in books. Of course, we know about great humanitarians like Gandhi, Lincoln and King because of the publicity they have received in all the multi-media forms, especially posthumously.
But these are but merely incidental to their struggles in life. In other words, what we see or know about are the fruits of their labor and not so much their decades-long struggles before they were even known. As such, their sweat, agony and perseverance were largely hidden from the limelight. My point is that many saints may never have the same publicity as great leaders like Gandhi and Mother Teresa and they may very well leave this world largely unknown.
So if there is a GPS system to navigate you around the terrains to identify saints living among us, it would be in the unlikeliest of places. So, if you are looking for a saint, try these places for size:-
1) In a home, where a mother wakes up early in the morning to prepare breakfast for her children without fail, and goes about her day caring for them in the most routine and mundane way, and keeping up the spirits even in the toughest of times, in sickness and in health, in disappointments and in personal pain, and in all her humanity, consistently following through till her very last breath. That's a saint in my book.
2) On one's knees, where a man proposes to another, and keeps his promises to her, never failing to love her in the worst of times, even when there is every worldly reason to leave her for another, and he gives himself selflessly to her notwithstanding his flaws and shortcomings, and in all this, when he grows old with her, he progressively discovers that he loves her even more deeply than the first time he proposed to her. Now that's a saint for me.
3) Beside a hospital bed, when a son is holding his father's hands, with tears in his eyes, he whispers these words to him, "I am sorry dad. I am so sorry," and makes a promise to his dying father that he is back for good, and thereafter, in repentance and humility, he lives his life the best way he knows how to honor the memory of his father. That's another saint for the record.
4) At a nondescript place, where a lady confronts the man who had taken her youth away from her, subjected her to pain, disappointments and even shame over the years, and with a quiet resolve in her heart, and a spirit of forgiveness, she hugs the man who himself is welling up with tears, and says in a resolute voice, "I forgive you." That's a saint, anytime, anywhere.
5) And finally, to a place where a man, who has every reason to give up on life, and who has lost everything he once held dear, clinging on only to the breath that he has under his nose, he slowly, painstakingly, and with dogged determination, picks himself up from the rubble of life and mend himself up, one broken piece at a time, regardless of how long it takes, and now lives a normal life, fully contented, and is uplifted by the littlest things in life, like a smile, a hug, a pat on the back, and a simple word of encouragement. Now that’s a saint for me, for all time. Cheerz