by Noel E. Bordador
When we hear the word “saint,” we probably imagine some sort of an idealized Christian person who is imbued with a heroic holiness, an other worldly sanctity, unfailing in his or her moral virtuous life, perhaps even some sort of a wonder miracle worker. We can be, at once, filled with admiration, even a holy envy for such a figure; yet, at the same time, we may also run the other way because such an ideal looks anything but real to us. I think it would do us good to briefly examine what those serious words like sanctity or holiness is all about.
First point: The sixteenth century saint, Teresa of Avila, describes holiness of life, the Christian spiritual life as a friendship with God. To be a Christian, to be a holy person is to live a life of friendship with God. Or as she said in her Meditations on the Song of Songs, a spiritual or holy person is one who has been “kissed by the mouth of God” by which she meant to describe a state of being in love with God, carrying out an ecstatic love affair with God. If there is anything about the communio sanctorum, this communion of saints, it is a fellowship of the friends of God, those who have tasted his holy kiss. And since I think we would consider ourselves God’s friends, and since we have, one way or another, tasted the kiss of God’s mouth, lovers of God, we are part of this mystical communion of saints.
Second Point: An eleventh century English monk, Aelred of Rievaulx, once wrote, “Deus amicitia.” “God is Friendship.” And this friendship is open to all; it is not a purview, a possession of some spiritual elite corps; it is not reserved to so called spiritual athletes. It does not matter who you are, or what you are or what you have or have not done, or what you have or not have, all can be friends of God. So whether you are a parent or a child, a priest or a doctor, a teacher or a building’s super, God calls you to a special friendship. In my prayer book, I carry a relic of a saint, a relic I placed on the altar today, relic of Joseph Benedict Labre. By worldly standards, he was a nobody. He was a poor homeless man; he was mentally unstable that he was rejected many times by various monasteries because he was deemed unfit for religious life. Yet, in his canonization proceedings, if nothing else, one thing stood out- Joseph was a man possessed, drunk with God’s love, a man who has tasted the kiss of God’s mouth. I carry this relic to remind myself of two things: that holiness is a path open to everyone, including those whom it is easy for us to judge unworthy, unfit; and secondly, saints like Joseph Benedict Labre reminds us that to lead a holy and spiritual life, we need not lead heroic, extraordinary and powerful lives. In fact, I believe that the endurance of our daily labors- the living in and out of the daily grind- in the night of faith and hope is itself heroic sanctity.
Third Point: The spiritual life is also lived not in some ideal world or place. But it is lived in the ground on which we stand; our spiritual life is lived precisely where we find ourselves. Friendship with God is lived where we live. So, God is in psychiatric ward I visit during my work as he is in a convent; God is in your family’s dining room or in your baby’s nursery as much as he is in the desert of a holy hermit. Teresa of Avila once reminded her nuns that God could be found in the kitchen of the monastery as much as God is found in the silence of the Church; she wrote, “The Lord walks among the pots and the pans.” All life is holy ground on which we encounter the divine. God is everywhere.
My fourth and last point: The Gospel today says that friendship with God has certain marks and characteristics. Wherever we find ourselves in the political divide of our nation post-election, we must remind ourselves that together we are, first and foremost, citizens of heaven in as much as we are citizens of these United States of America. And as citizens of heaven, we are not only bound to one another in friendship of God, but we are also bound together by a common ethic of this heavenly commonwealth. What is this ethic? Friendship with God means we will not have no thing or no one hinder our relationship with God. Not money, not the Church, not our career, not our relationships. Blessed are we indeed whose wealth is God alone; and when we find ourselves far from God, we mourn our distance and we turn back. To be friends with God means we must offer friendship to others and to the world. To do this the Gospel enjoins us to do the following: we must renounce violence and instead to pursue non-violent peace. We must show compassion, mercy, and respect towards one another, and pursue just and wholesome relationships with one another, free from exploitation and malice- be that in our personal or spiritual or political, or economic relationships.
May Almighty God, to whose glory we celebrate this festival of all Saints, be now and evermore your friend, lover, guide and companion in the way of holiness, justice and peace. Amen.
©2019 Noel E. Bordador
Noel Bordador is a queer Episcopal priest in the Philippines. He runs Nazareth House, a Catholic Worker House of Hospitality for persons with HIV/AIDS in Manila.S
Photo: Shrine to St Joseph Benedict Labre in Madonna dei Monti, Rome.
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