One of the great tragedies of the reformation is the loss of history within the churches that count themselves it’s children. Within many traditions there was a movement to distance the emerging churches of the reformation from the historical continuity of the Catholic Church. People began to look exclusively at the leaders in the first century of the church's existence for inspiration, and abandoned devotion to anyone who didn’t fall under the umbrella of the apostolic age. If the Bible didn’t mention someone as holy, then one couldn’t trust that they were holy. As a result many protestants have lost touch with the saints.
Even though I was raised in the Lutheran Church, which tends to hold onto history better than many traditions, I still felt that I needed to connect with the lives of the saints more closely. This year I have tried to be on a journey with the saints as a spiritual practice.
It all started when I read through My Life With The Saints by Fr. James Martin. This book is a great demonstration of what a powerful spiritual practice surrounding the lives of the saints looks like. In the book Fr. Martin takes us through a tour of the lives of the saints that have most deeply impacted his own life. He talks about why the saint is important to him personally and shares some things about their lives that might be of interest to other as well.
The format is brilliant. Fr. Martin gives a bit of an autobiography of his own life by talking about how he has developed a love for certain saints over time as he has entered different parts of his life. Fr. Martin understands that if one is a christian, their life cannot be isolated from the life of the church. All are united in Christ and therefore, all christians become a kind of sacred space that others can inhabit. As one sees the grace of God reflected powerfully in others they can encounter God’s grace in ways that are beyond the particularities of their own life. By looking to the saints God’s grace can be experienced as a more than just a personal gift, but a universal revolution.
Saints have cut pathways through the vastness of human experience and demonstrate ways that God can be at work in any number of places, and at any number of times. When we enter new places where God seems absent, saints assure us that we are not alone in that place and point to ways that God has already been there and point toward the pathways of grace.
Fr. Martin’s book inspired and convicted me. As I read through it I realized that I wanted to have a life connected to the life of the saints, but recognized that my own life was woefully deficient. Far too often my spiritual life tends toward one of vainglory. I believe that the way God has worked in me is the best way, and show little regard for alternative pathways of grace. Not only did I not have a desire to know the ways of God that I might learn about through the saints, I had no room to receive them in my own heart. I needed to learn how to have the kind of humility that says yes to what God has to give me, even if it’s not what I had anticipated.
As a result I decided that I would start to get to know my first saint. There is no one in scripture that reflects the heart of humility more than the Virgin Mary. I decided that I would invite God to work the same heart, open to grace, in me. Since reading the book I have spent countless hours sitting with Mary trying to learn to live in the space of humility that she has so powerfully modeled for the Church, the first chapter in my own Life with the Saints has begun.