OK. I have a confession to make. I’m not a punctual person.
It’s not that I feel I am justified in being late or that I think my behavior is somehow acceptable. I want to be punctual, but in the end I never seem to manage it.
While my struggle with punctuality is not exactly a secret, it’s also not something that’s advertised in some obvious way. I don’t introduce myself as a chronically late person. It’s not on my resume. It’s not on my social media. Yet, if you ask any of my friends they will confirm that David is never on time.
It's one of my many little quirks or irritating bad habits (depends on who you ask) that you only know if you know me. I guess you can say in a weird way it’s an intimate detail about me that only those that “truly know me” would know. The people that know me “warts and all”
I find myself wanting to have that same intimate knowledge with the heroic figures in my faith: the saints.
We don’t often think of the saints as people we can have intimate knowledge of. For most of us a saint is the name of a parish, or the name of some person you picked for your confirmation (by-the-way, giving yourself a new name for confirmation is just reason # 548 us Catholics are weird). For some of us the saints are like the Catholic version of a fairy tale: the heroic young man rejects his father’s wealth, goes into the wilderness, receives a vision, gets a group of followers, talks to animals and ends up changing the world (That’s my version of the St. Francis story if you didn’t pick that up). For some of us the saints are another name in the list of people we ask to pray for our needs. We can rattle off the names (Linus, Cleatus, Clement, Sixtus) or invoke them for their specific patronage (For example, did you know St. Anthony of Padua is patron saint of asses?). But, despite all these ways saints might be part of our lives, it seems like we hardly look at them as flesh and blood people.
I think part of the reason is that we don’t have that intimate knowledge of the saints. After all, we hardly ever get a picture of the saints warts and all. We tend to put the saints on a pedestal as people who achieved perfection. If you read about a saint you often get a story that’s heavy on the saint’s virtues, but light on the saint’s bad habits or sins (unless it’s a story that involves a conversion, in which case you get to hear all about how horrible the saint used to be). If you look at a statue or painting of our older brothers and sisters in the faith you’ll find them in ecstasy, preaching, or being brutally martyred. But, I bet you won’t find a painting of St. Therese with a bad case of bed-head.
Don’t get me wrong. I get it. I know that when we want to put our best foot forward and put up a good image of the people who are our examples to follow. It makes perfect sense. But… maybe you’re weird like me and relate more to the negative than the positive. Maybe knowing that a saint cursed like a sailor would somehow make that saint more real to you. It does to me.
This crazy idea all came to me while I was reading the biography of Blessed Oscar Romero. Blessed Oscar Romero was the Archbishop of San Salvador, El Salvador who was martyred in 1980 by a gunman acting on behalf of the extreme-right government. (You can see our video about him here). But in addition to being a saint from my homeland, he was also a relative: my grandmother’s cousin. She is someone who had direct intimate knowledge of the soon-to-be saint. While reading the biography gave me dates and facts, I didn’t feel like I knew the man, until grandma started telling me stories.
She told me how he was very stern and serious. She told me how he had a bad habit of appearing disinterested and replying in one-word answers. She told me how her brother, my great uncle, was angry at him from some sort of perceived insult. She gave me a peek into the real person she knew, not just the fairy tale heroic figure.
These details do not detract from the man’s sanctity, but rather magnify it. In spite of these quirks Blessed Oscar Romero was able to overcome and say yes to God and the mission He entrusted him.
Yes, he was stern and serious, but was caring enough to offer to marry my mother in his personal chapel. Yes, he appeared disinterested and was short on words, yet for his homilies he was able to passionately preach for over an hour, highlighting the areas his war-torn country needed conversion. Yes, my great uncle was upset with him, yet even he was saddened upon Romero’s death and came around to acknowledge that his cousin was a in fact a holy man.
You see, sanctity is not perfection. Romero was not perfect, nor was any other saint for that matter. Sanctity is not about that. It is about saying yes to God as much as you can and fulfilling the mission He entrusted to you, the one no one else can fulfill. It’s not a call for the few, but rather for all of us. All of us can become saints even with our quirks and bad habits.
I think we need a vision of the saints that includes the not-so-great. A vision all of us in the grind can relate to. A vision that make the saints real. A vision of saints warts and all.
After all, I need some sort of hope that I can make it to sainthood one day in spite of my lack of punctuality. Which is why I admire St. John Paul II, because you may not know this, but the man was chronically late too!