Betty was always there. The chair by the wall of the third row up from the altar that was her spot. She was there for Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer with the clergy and for each of the daily masses. The only time she wasn’t there was when she was in the body of the Church for the Solemn high Mass on a Sunday morning or for Evensong and Benediction, when she sat in the choir stalls with the rest of us.
Betty, as far as I was and still am concerned was a true saint of God. She lived a life dedicated to prayer and was a gentle and supportive friend to many. She didn’t make very old bones as cancer took her act about 70 but she always reminded me of Anna in the Temple waiting to greet the Messiah and in the meantime caring for God’s people that she met.
As you can tell, I still vividly remember her and it will be nigh on 40 years ago that she died. I valued her prayers then as I explored my vocation to ministry and I value them still, now that she resides in the presence of God.
Betty would never have thought of herself as ‘saint’ material. She did what she felt she had to do to fulfil her Baptismal vocation as a Christian. It was nothing remarkable or special, it was just what she did. She is not acknowledged as an official saint of the church but as I have said as far as I am concerned she is a saint and I suspect that those who remember her think so too.
So often we think of saints as being truly remarkable people or those who gave themselves to a martyr’s death - yes these are saints but there is a ‘greater company of heaven’ than those listed as ‘saints’.
Who are your saints? Ponder for a moment and ask yourself why they are your saints?
Do you like me include with people like Betty one or two official saints? My list includes; St.Benedict for it is his Rule of Life that I try to follow and to put into practice in my daily life; St.Thomas, who doubted as I too doubt and regularly question my faith; Mary the Mother of Jesus who said Yes, when she need not have, she encourages me to do things I might not say yes to and St.Joseph, Jesus’ earthly father figure who has inspired me as a step-father to deeply love the boys that aren’t my flesh and blood.
None of my saints were perfect, Benedict got exasperated with his monks, his patience was limited. Thomas didn’t get it right at times. Mary as we are told in the apocryphal Gospels got cross with Jesus and smacked his bottom! Many saints are not perfect and at times I wonder quite how some got into and remain in the calendar of saints days. Yet there must be something in their lives that resonates with others for them to be there. I suspect that it is to do with their flawed humanity, and that by acknowledging their flaws we are given hope in over coming our own!
That for me, I think, is the point of saints, they are an encouragement to us to always try and do our best despite ourselves. None of us are perfect but even the most imperfect of us can still encourage others to do better and to keep on trying.
One thing all the saints are examples of are of people who said their prayers, even if they struggled to do so. Betty wasn’t perfect but she faithfully said her prayers and it is that that I remember and am thankful to her for. All of us are called to be saints and how do we achieve that status? It is by saying our prayers in this world and the next and we do this best in this world when we come together in the Eucharist for as our liturgy tells us:
“Help us, who are baptised into the fellowship of Christ's Body to live and work to your praise and glory; may we grow together in unity and love until at last, in your new creation, we enter into our heritage in the company of the Virgin Mary, the apostles, and prophets, and of all our brothers and sisters living and departed.” 1982 Scottish Eucharistic Liturgy
Living and departed we gather in the Eucharist making prayer to God and continuing our journey into sainthood.
One can never proclaim oneself to be saint but you might be surprised by those who already think you are one!!