As he was being barbecued alive he said to his captors, “Turn me; this side is done.” Another was asked by the ruler of Rome to bring him all the churches gold and silver within one day or he would be beheaded. On the twenty-fourth hour he brought the patrons of the church, along with the mentally ill, the sick and disabled. He said very politely and from the heart, “These are the treasures of our church.” He was immediately beheaded.
Father Isaac Jogues, on a mission to North America to bring Christ to the native Mohawks, Huron and Iroquois, was captured and forced to run the gauntlet, his beard pulled out, his fingers sawed off with oyster shells, his flesh cut from him and eaten by the villagers in front of him. At night he was tied spread-eagle to the ground and the children were encouraged to throw live coals on his bare flesh. After he was Martyred 1,400 North American Indians came to Christ as a direct result of his teaching while in captivity.
What is a saint to we of the apostolic faith? What is the common thread? We know that Saint Peter, before he was transformed at Pentecost, denied Jesus three times and later went on to become our Churches first apostolic leader. We also have a paradox in which saints such as the familiar Joan of Ark were actually killed by some in the church. Burnt at the stake. To a Roman Catholic, saints are merely humans, some of whom were miserable people at one time during their lives such as Saint Paul who once had Christians put to their deaths. But one by one the common thread of of the Holy Spirit connects each of them.
There are thousands upon thousands of Saints whose real life stories are documented and live on to this day. They came to understand the words of Christ when He said, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life or what can one give in exchange for his life?”
What is this dying to self about which Christ and His gospel speaks to us in volumes? To a learned Catholic dying to self to be raised in Christ holds the common thread of what a saint is all about. Saint Ignatius terms it a relinquishment of "self-will, self-love, and self-interests." He says it is positive in not seeking honors and esteem of others, and self-condemning because man knows evil is his own doing. Humility is exercised toward God and neighbors: toward God who as the Creator gives man whatever he possesses, and toward his neighbors by recognizing their worth in the eyes of God – in short, the very first two commandments.
Saint Augustine put it like this:
“Pride about our good deeds is pointless. God has his own ideas regarding what is good and he does not always agree with us. If there is anything good about you believe better things of others. This will keep you humble. It will not hurt you at all to consider yourself less righteous than others, but it will be disastrous for you to consider yourself better than even one person.”
Thomas Kempis wrote:
“What must he do? He must give up everything, especially himself, retaining no trace of selfishness. And when he has done everything required of him he must consider it as nothing. He must not agree with others when they applaud him, but rather admit that he is actually an ordinary servant. As the gospel says, ‘When you have done everything you were told to do, say "We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty"’ (Luke 17:10). After admitting this he may be honestly poor in spirit, and may say with the psalmist, ‘Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted’ (Ps. 25:16). And yet, no one will be richer, no one more powerful, no one more free, because he is able to leave himself and all material things behind, and set himself in the lowest place.”
This is what Christ showed the saints; they acted on Christ. This is what we see when we commune with the saints who are much more alive now with God our Father than when they walked the face of the earth. We indeed are a very large family; those in heaven are very much alive. We draw strength from each other’s experience in Jesus. We have a special place in our prayers for saints such as Mary and Joseph who said yes to our Lord, to all the thousands of saints who have gone before us.
For us death does not separate the dead from the living, for in God all that is good is indeed very much alive. All that is good comes to us in and through Christ Jesus. I personally see the saints as pointing to Jesus while deflecting any glory that may come their way, as all glory, honor and righteousness is God’s and His alone. Which one of us can really be trusted with such power? Such Glory? Righteousness and Honor? Those things that belong solely to Jesus? Most of us let those desires get in the way. The saints learned to step aside themselves if only for a moment.
A witness we admire and long to carry on.