Monday, 30 October 2017

Saints fit to follow

I'd love to be back in Trinidad tomorrow night, on the eve of All Saints', driving past the cemetery in the old capital of St Joseph after dark, nearly every grave lit up with a mass of candles. Ever since I was a child, it's reminded me of the way in which the risen Christ lights up the gloom of our lives and our deaths with a promise of the new creation.

Today, we're more inclined to make our own saints of our celebrity singers, actors and sports personalities. We idolize them and scour the newspapers for titbits of gossip. The glitter and razzmatazz draws us like moths to a flame, and consumes us with bitterness and envy as we approach. We can never be like them, try as we might. They are the icons of our broken dreams and failure to find meaning.

Which is why, in the end, we rejoice at their downfall. I am in no doubt that the spectacular 'fall from grace' of Harvey Weinstein and others is appropriate, and an object lesson in the danger that is inherent in our veneration of the secular 'company of saints'. Yet, having been poisoned by their narcissism and our voyeurism, we are even further corrupted by the danse macabre with which we surround their fall. Both celebrity heroics and the anti-heroic glee with which we welcome their fall to earth stain us.

The Christian gospel holds up a different band of pilgrims, of apostles, prophets, martyrs, teachers and confessors whom we revere, not because they are utterly unlike us, but because they show us in small and great ways what we also can be in Christ. They are models of what is possible, in Christ. They are beacons who light up a way that is open, in Christ. And of course, they challenge us to the narrow way of the kingdom, the way of ascent, the way of the cross, the way of dying to self that new life may come.

So tomorrow and throughout this week, I'll be remembering the unremarked and unremarkable saints who've shaped my life and my journey, as well as those whose names I carry: Thomas the doubting apostle who said 'My Lord and my God'; Francis, the little poor one, who stripped himself bare the better to follow Christ, and Adrian of Nicomedia, soldier in the Praetorian Guard who was converted and martyred at the beginning of the 4th century. May they, and we, rise in glory.

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