It is our identity as baptized members of the Body of Christ that makes us saints
By Bob Hunt
I want to be a saint. I don’t say that with any arrogance, much less with any presumption that my canonization will be imminent upon my death. Still, I do say that I want to be a saint, and that it ought to be the desire of every believer in Jesus Christ to be a saint.
Leon Bloy, the temperamental French Catholic novelist, famously declared, “The only real sadness, the only real failure, the only great tragedy of life, is not to become a saint.” In the decades since the Second Vatican Council, we’ve heard much about “the universal call to holiness,” which is about God having called every believer to sanctity.
Because of our practice of canonizing great Christians and giving them the title “saint,” we sometimes forget that we are all saints because we are members of the Church, the Body of Christ. We speak of “the Church triumphant, the Church suffering, and the Church militant.” The Church triumphant are those saints already in heaven. The Church suffering are those saints in purgatory. The Church militant are those saints still here on earth. The point is, each part of the Church is composed of saints, and all three together comprise the communion of saints. We are part of that communion of saints even now. It is our identity as baptized members of the Body of Christ that makes us saints, and not the measure of our progress in sanctity at any given time. It is Christ that has made us holy and calls us to perfection in holiness. Just as the kingdom of God is “already, but not yet,” among us already, but not yet realized in all its glory, so our sanctity is “already, but not yet.” We are saints called to sanctity, holy ones called to holiness.
Bishop Robert Barron says the first path to sanctity is to find your center in Jesus Christ. This is so much more than simply “self-identifying” as a Christian. It is to make every aspect of your life a reflection of your commitment to Jesus Christ. How do I do this? A first thought is to be conscious of myself as a Christian at every moment. For too many, and for me too often, being a Catholic is simply one of my many identities carried around in a backpack or valise that is taken out periodically to help define myself to others. Toward my children I am a parent. Toward my spouse I am a husband or wife. To my boss I am an employee. I bring these various identities out of my backpack or valise according to the circumstances of any particular encounter. So, too, when I am at church, at worship, teaching a Sunday school class, or volunteering my services for the parish, I bring out my identity as a Catholic. But, rather than my identity as a Catholic being one of many I carry around with me, my life in Christ ought to be the backpack or valise in which I carry all aspects of my life—as a parent, a spouse, a worker, etc. It is my being a Christian that gives meaning and substance to every aspect of who I am.
St. Paul wrote to the Galatians, “I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me” (Galatians 2:19b-20). Christ lives in each of us. We live by faith in Christ. Rather than wallowing in false humility and focusing our spirituality on our unworthiness, recognizing that Christ lives in us ought to inspire in every believer a desire to live more faithfully the call to holiness.
In their document Lumen gentium, the fathers of the Second Vatican Council wrote, “… all Christians in whatever state or walk in life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of charity, … following in [Christ’s] footsteps and conformed to his image, doing the will of God in everything, they may wholeheartedly devote themselves to the glory of God and the service of their neighbor” (LG, 40).
The fullness of Christian life and the perfection of charity is what sanctity is all about. The saints in heaven lived such with great courage and often at great cost. As saints of God still here on earth, we are called to do likewise.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.
Bob Hunt is a husband, father, and parishioner at All Saints Church in Knoxville.