Saints Marching Among Us
By: Vincent Guider
I brought in the New Year thanking God for the many blessings I enjoy, as is my usual practice during that season. However this year I also found myself being preoccupied with hopes and prayers that we in Chicagoland can find some ways to move closer toward more peace and sanity in 2016 and away from the tragedies that so frequently filled the Chicago newscasts during 2015.
The troubling social concerns we are grappling with in Chicago keep me wondering what on earth any of us can do to begin setting things right. They also pose the question to our Church about how we, as people of Christian faith, are to respond. What can we do to make a difference? Who will step forward? How and when should they do so? Given these questions, what do we mean when we say, ‘kinship’?
This new year challenges me/us to find ways of joining forces with other people of faith to counteract bigotry, greed, apathy and oppressive systems that seek to divide and conquer us. It compels me/us to say, “ENOUGH IS ENOUGH” and find ways to actually end the killing in our streets and homes. It makes me/us figure out why people all around us (and I’m not talking about people way off across the oceans in third world countries) face so many day to day struggles and barriers to life opportunity. I/We in this America with a Declaration of Independence that advises how we are “endowed by the Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit happiness”, experience outrage that so many among us are hungry, languishing in failing schools, homeless, unemployed, racially profiled, alienated, shot down like vermin or mistreated because of whom they love. I/we wonder how we will find enough strength and allies to address such ills and live the promises of mercy, peace and prosperity. The questions and my/our search for answers continues.
I found some solace from my lamenting on New Year’s Day when I read one of the Apostle Paul’s letters to the Hebrews. In all of Chapter 11 he recounts the names and deeds of saintly men and women from the Old Testament. He describes how they trudged ahead in the face of adversity, guided by their faith, to make a difference. He tells of Abel’s offering, Enoch being taken up by God, Noah and Abraham’s obedience, Isaac and Jacob’s inheritance, Sara’s strength and Rahab’s courage in the face of danger to name a few. They marched on with Godly indignation despite the perils and obstacles they faced. Later in Hebrews 12:1, Paul continued by issuing a direct challenge to me/us, the believers. He said:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”
Here, St. Paul used two central themes to exhort me/ us today. The first is a reminder that there are saints that breathe and move among us every day. They do godly work to make the world better. The second theme cautions me/us to take on whatever social missions we engage in with an awareness that they come with challenges. We cannot fully accomplish the more important work that we do easily or overnight, it takes time, determination and faith on our part.
Saintly people that I’ve/we’ve known personally and those deceased and canonized are usually best known for what they did with and among God’s people. We may admire their piety, their contemplation and their religious practices, but it is their walks and talks of faith that sets them apart spiritually. Though humanly flawed, they are ones who serve those who are most in need of mercy, compassion and justice, and in some cases their saintliness has happened in rambunctious fashion. Still, they put their lives on the line to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned, comfort the anxious, visit the sick and lonely ever knowing they may face difficulties along the way. Jesus spoke of lively people such as these when He said, “Faith, if it has no works, is dead” [James 2:17].
It has been said that the mission of every Christian is to live a holy life. If we believe this, sainthood is a state of being worth striving for – being more one with God is the ultimate goal. Therefore if we even dare to dream of placing ourselves among the Communion of Saints some day, we are required to get up from our easy chairs, leave our comfort zones and delve into sometimes unfamiliar, possibly uncomfortable, perhaps even dangerous situations. It means doing our best under the risk of being inconvenienced or misunderstood. It also challenges us to resist the urge to scapegoat, wag our fingers or point out the pathologies in others without first deeply examining the demons within our social systems and ourselves. Getting things right is hard, important, saintly work and it’s up to us to try and do it.
I feel privileged to be one of many contributors to the partnership between Old St. Pat’s Church and our West Side neighbors in the North Lawndale neighborhood. We call it the Kinship Initiative because it is a collaboration built on relationship above all. I also draw inspiration from our Social Justice and Outreach Ministries. They are filled with participants who are living, breathing examples of holiness. They do not serve with the expectation of quick and simple results; they know what they do is more like a marathon than a sprint. They work at gathering people to dream and think through the needs and possibilities of our city, and they then roll up their sleeves to make things happen. People such as these, who bring such saintly energy to the table know sainthood is not something so daunting that one should never strive for it. Instead, they epitomize the old saying, “Every sinner is a potential saint and every saint is a former sinner.”
Vincent Guider is the Director of the North Lawndale Kinship Initiative at Old St. Patick’s Church