Busted Halo
feature: religion & spirituality
September 19th, 2012

Give Me Some Bad Saints, Please


For some time now I have been faithfully following the little blurbs on the “Saint of the Day” in my various religious readings and Internet sites. These seem to include very young and virtuous girls in Italy who fend off rapists and then forgive them in the end; women who married young, had a gazillion children, forgave their husbands their infidelities and then founded orders of nuns who cared for the poor and the sick; holy men who became doorkeepers at monasteries and blew people away with their advice and wisdom.

This is not to knock these saints! By no means. It’s just to say — I cannot see myself in them. I wasn’t a virgin for very long; I am not humble and generous; I don’t dispense wisdom to visitors; and I am not good, except for short periods of time, sort of like a solar flare. Do others have this same response: that these holy people are not at all like me?

Fr. Barron, the creator of the wonderful “Catholicism” series talks about a conversation Thomas Merton had with his friend, Robert Lax, who asked Thomas what he wanted to be. After a sort of garbled answer, Robert replied, “You should want to be a saint.” And Fr. Barron turns to us watching the DVD and says that we should want that too.

I just think life is far fiercer, far more dangerous, and far more sensual than the traditional idea of “sainthood” seems to be. I could be way wrong on this. But I am not aiming for sainthood.

Wow. That is so not on my bucket list. It probably should be. If I had any pretensions or ambitions to holiness (whatever the hell that is!), I should want to be a saint. But I don’t. I want to make a perfect cheese omelette with smoked peppers and artichokes inside, and watch the smiles of appreciation on my loved ones’ faces as they bite into the runny center. I want to pour out perfectly crisp Chardonnay into tall glasses, handing them to my friends as they sit on our deck overlooking the mountains. I want to scratch near the tail of my feisty but calm Jack Russell terrier until she falls over in a swoon of delight. I want to gather my family around our rusted fire pit, light a fire, and tell stories about the worst and scariest horror movies we’ve ever seen. I want to watch the luna moth cling to the steps leading to our deck, wondering at its mysterious latching on and betting he’ll be gone by dark. (He was.) I want to watch the painted turtle dig laboriously in the gravel to the side of our drive, her flailing hind legs moving with such absolute determination that it leaves me breathless. I want to hear the calls of geese overhead and see them fly over, necks stretched out to their future. I want to hear the cries of red-shouldered hawks above and peer up into the blinding sun, seeing their wing feathers blaze with light. Like angels. Fierce, predatory angels.

I just think life is far fiercer, far more dangerous, and far more sensual than the traditional idea of “sainthood” seems to be. I could be way wrong on this. But I am not aiming for sainthood. I am aiming to nourish the people I love; laugh at their jokes; show up in church with some regularity; sing in the choir (a new joy); grow plants in the garden; and remind friends and family when the time is right that we are blessed, every day, every second, even when it hurts. Even when it feels like disaster. Because in the midst of disaster, there we find love. And it is a love that I believe isn’t overly fussy about how “good” we’ve been, how much wine we’ve drunk, and whether we’ve saved lepers or not. It is a love that will gather us up with all of our imperfections, murmuring, “I’ve been waiting for you honey, and here you are. Alleluia and amen!”

The Author : Annie Turner
Ann Turner is a passionate convert to the Catholic faith, who is also passionate about life in general, small dogs, food and wine, friends, nature, and the blessing that comes from just showing up and being a witness with other people. Follow Ann's faith journey & more at: itsthegodthing.blogspot.com. Ann is also the published author of over forty children's books. She loves to hear from her readers.
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  • Eron

    Best thing I have done this year was make a pilgrimage to the shrine of St Kolbe here in PA. He is a guy I can relate to. I find myself Identifying with some of the modern saints and a few of the middle age ones, specificly, dang it, I cant rember his name but he was a punk petty knight who found true faith after years of killing. I started down the road to Jesus after my 1st combat rotation forced me to start questioning the militant atheism I subscribed to.

  • Peter Burger

    Interesting article. Many saints have suffered their dark night of the soul. The Adelaide theologian Denis Edwards reminds us (in What does it mean to be a saint – edited by Jo Laffin) that all of us who are Christians are a part of the “Communion of saints”, because we are transformed in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. And those outside of the Church too are a part of the communion of saints. I agree, many stories of the Saints have been sanitised, and this is a turn off, that is why I have enjoyed reading about Mary MacKillop so much, as she is a very holy,but down to earth person who became a Saint. I feel quite comfortable, as an ordinary old sinner, that despite my foibles I am loved for who I am both by my wife and by God, and will join that Communion of saints.

  • Gene Barrette

    St. Irenaeus had it right, “The Glory of God is the human person fully alive.”
    And saints ae those “fully alive” not just from the “eyebrows-up” but also from the “eyebrows-down.”. Saints are the “cross” people – living aware of the vertical dimension – up and down, but not merely in the looking up, transcending, spiritual – but up in the sense of what is pourdowning upon us – like water from a shower head – a milliong little alarm clocks to wake us up to the startling wonders in all things, as Ann’s article beautifully articates. And yes, vertical as we give thanks, praise. The horizontl – stretching out always to love, to embrace, to care, to affirm, pushing back darkness, tossing forth bounteous sparks of delight and mirth. “How can you love God whom you can’t see if you don’t love those whom you can see….?”
    Saints? – all those who grab and are grabbed by the “stuff” of the here and now – and in the here and now help build the Kingdom with their unique gifts, given for that specific purpose. We’re not here to save our souls – but “empowered” to “renew the face of the earth” – Yes, saints are the Kingdom builders … Not the “don’t do that, and that, and that” kind of people. Saints are the “Yes” – do it all – learn and grow from it all – Celebrate life People.
    YES people. By Their Fruits you shall know them. Those who like to shrivel up and expect others to do the same – and believe that is sainthood – step aside – Because the live ones – the saints are coming and are marching in …

  • John O’Kelly

    There are saints in every parish I’ve served in almost fifty years of priesthood. If people can’t find them, ask around.

  • Gwen

    I am often annoyed by the sanitized stories of saints also. It would help a lot to hear about their struggles to become holy so we could learn about how to get there. Loving is not easy. Sometimes “being a saint” really becomes a kind of pride rather than heroic love.

  • Nancy

    I think there are whole lot of legends that have popped up about saints, developed as part of the process to make them saints, which was a nice feather in a town’s cap, to have a homegrown person become a saint. Very political. So Teresa of Avila’s epilepsy becomes much more than it probably was, not that she wasn’t a saint despite it, or in spite of it. She certainly earns sainthood in my book for having to deal with all the church politics of her day. God is way more generous than Rome ever will be, and Paul’s notion of saints makes much more sense. I think we are all saints, for having lived on earth and pretty much survived the experience.

  • Me

    Thank you, Ann, for a realistic piece. :) Although I’m sure some Saints felt the same way, it just wasn’t written about in favor of their more glorified actions. I certainly can relate to this. And

    Danielle! I know how you’re feeling. I would suggest you seek out a spiritual director, someone who will help you find that richness you’re looking for. Start by asking around your parish for suggestions.

  • Ann Turner

    Hi, folks, I can see that this posting has deeply annoyed a number of you and I am sorry about that. This posting is probably more off the cuff than I would even do today, and let me correct a few assumptions. First of all, Claudia, you don’t know me at all and cannot make a judgment upon my personality based on this one posting. I suggest you go to the Archives of BH and see some of my former posts to get a clearer picture of me. I have, of course, read Fr. Jim’s wonderful book on the saints, and am currently reading “Come Be My Light.” Oscar Romero, the Berrigans, Dorothy Day, Dorothea Strang and more are definitely heroes of mine. I think I meant to draw a comparison between sainthood being awarded for renunciation and the possibility of sainthood being conferred for embracing life. I believe in the sacrament of daily life and the wisdom and richness that can confer on so many. So–peace, everyone.

  • GMar

    Ann… you need to read beyond “the little blurbs on the ‘Saint of the Day’”! I highly recommend “My Life with the Saints” by James Martin, SJ. I think you will really relate both to him, and to the Saints he has come to know.

  • Danielle

    this article really struck a cord with me. i feel such a disconnect from holiness, sainthood and more broadly my faith. i’m not on “fire with love” of Jesus, Mary, God or my faith. My religon and faith at this point in my life a routine that I follow. I’ve joined Singles for Chirst but I felt even more lost and disconnect. And I get even more frustrated when people tell me I’m just going through a dry period in my faith. To that I say my whole life minus 3 instances have I felt this way.

  • Claudia Groome

    No wonder this woman doesn`t understand what being a saint means. Her ideas of life are extremely superficial, but I guess it comes from living in a privileged society.

  • Christine Venzon

    I can understand Ann’s sense of disconnect. “Saint of the day” bios are like baseball cards: they give yo the highlights without much background. I’m sure if she looks more closely into their entire lives, she’ll see that saints enjoyed the same things she writes about in her article. The first thing St. Matthew did after becoming one of Jesus’ disciples was have him over for dinner to meet his friends. At the same time, they realized that, in and of themselves, these weren’t the most important things in life. They were truly good in that they were means of experiencing and imitating God’s love for us.

  • Mary

    When I was in 6th grade, I wanted to be a “virgin martyr” when I grew up. I didn’t see the irony. My 6th grade teacher, bless you Sr. Monica, marched me to the library, pulled out biographies of St. Catherine of Sienna, St. Francis of Assisi and others. I would add Dorothy Day and Oscar Romero to this group. Saintly is not boring – crazy maybe.

  • am

    Deanna – the book you mention sounds quite interesting… who’s the author? Thanks!

  • Deanna Klingel

    Bread Upon the Water may be a book for you Ann. The subject of this nonfiction bio isn’t a canonized saint, yet he is a model of faith for all of us having lived the fiercer, dangerous side of life more than any of us, yet never doubting his faith. That’s the making of a saint.

  • LJK

    The saints are “far fiercer, far more dangerous, and far more sensual than the traditional idea of “sainthood””. Read their stories.

  • Trezlen

    Ann, thank you for your post. When I was confirmed I couldn’t relate to the saints that everyone talked about. I am more of a “wild thing” than a “wilting flower”. I had to search to find a saint who fit. Thanks for writing what I was thinking all those years ago.

  • SisterCJ

    “I just think life is far fiercer, far more dangerous, and far more sensual than the traditional idea of “sainthood” seems to be.”

    I was surprised at the list of saint ‘types’ and her final deduction quoted above. She has missed the saints who shared a passionate love for God and preached (and died) for their firey defense of the Gospel. She has missed the saints who overame all odds and then looked back to laugh those odds to shame. She has missed those saints who cried out to God in all their suffering until they heard His Voice only to become a living sign of that Voice for others. Our saints lived fierce lives with a sensual connection to God in dangerous times. It’s too bad that she couldn’t look past what she saw in her daily life to see where the possibilities of the saints could lead her!

  • Zeb

    It sounds like the author wants a Christianity that sacralizes bourgeois consumption and applauds epicurean development. It’s more Oprah and Jesus. It’s one thing to acknowledge how far we feel from sainthood (though we should also acknowledge we are but one act of will, one moment of grace away at the same time), but it’s a bit nuts to pat ourselves on the back for that distance, much less imagine that God is waiting to pat us on the back for it. It’s true that accounts of saint’s lives are often missing anything about their aesthetic experiences and their joys, but we should not doubt that they were as able or likely more able than most to glory in God’s creation and rejoice in human companionship, or think that our doing so removes us from their experiences. It’s just that the things that made them saintly examples were the ways that they transcended ordinary human virtue and ability, by the grace of God. A Christianity that does not draw us toward that opportunity for transcendence and divine union through detachment and self sacrifice is I think just paganism in Christian dress.

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