The Catholic tradition has a great appreciation of the epistemological nature of the human person. Church thinkers have put a lot of time into the theory of how it is we know. After all, as the old catechism tells us right up front “why did God make you?” “to know him and love him.” This is sort of a 2-way street, we comprehend what we are, and how it is we come to know, and even more important God knows even better what we are and how we get ideas.
If you stop and think about it, the incarnation, the sacraments, and the Saints all appreciate how it is man comes to know via his senses.
God in his purest immaterial essence is very difficult for man to comprehend. Just think of Moses standing there at the burning bush hearing God give an account of himself. “YHWH” I am. This account is surely true enough, but we as corporeal sensate beings have no way to relate to this concept. I can say that I get it, God is foundational being itself, but do I really have anything to relate that to. Not really.
Now God made flesh in the work and person of Christ Jesus, here we are getting a little bit closer to something I can wrap my head around. I can conceive of sin, I can hold the idea of an offense against God, in fact I can begin to hold the economy of salvation as an idea. Now the idea of a Christ is making some sense to me, and not just the abstract idea of a Christ, but the real work and person of Christ Jesus. Now we are getting some particularity. Some people became followers of this individual, relayed many historical details about this real person to others. Many others became followers of the truths he relayed to humanity. You can begin to see how the nature of God is being much more fleshed out from the days of the theophany at the burning bush. It is taking on form, and reality that avails itself to human comprehension. It has in fact become fully human.
Now we do not get the profound reality of the incarnation every generation, but we do get reality patterned after the great reality. We get Saints in every generation. What are Saints? In many ways they are like small incarnations of God’s reality put right before our limited minds. They are people, who in a special way, demonstrate the power and love of God in a way our human minds can appreciate. All people are “imago Dei”, but a certain select number become the image of God to a degree that most of us are not capable.
Think of the love and grace of God as being like light itself. Light itself has no characteristic we can appreciate until it hits something, assumes some particular frequency in the visible spectrum, bounces off something, and finds its way to our Retina. At this point our visual cortex in our brain appreciates an image and we see something. Most of the time we comprehend what we see and can identify it.
When the grace of God is manifest in a Saint, we see the virtues made real. When somebody is kind to the less fortunate, I see charity made real. When somebody makes a decent account of the truths of our faith to another, I see a certain courage. When a Christian suffers some persecution for the sake of his faith I see fortitude made real. These are the sorts of things the Saints have done forever. They do it in spades!
The Saints are as natural for people as are the Sacraments are. God knows what sort of things we need to comprehend. That is why he gives us the Eucharist. We see it, we hold it, we take into our person with all our senses, and make it apart of us. Just like the Saints, it is God made real in a way we can appreciate. Not just an abstract idea, but completely real in a way supremely congruent with humanity.
As always I do encourage you all to conduct your own liturgy, which is the Liturgy of the hours, morning and evening prayer. I also encourage you when you do this to look at the particular day you happen to be on. I am certain that you all often take a look at your BCP, and there on page 15 begins the calendar of the Church year. Many of the canonized Saint’s feast days are listed right there for you. Take a moment look them up. You can do it the old fashioned way with a Butler’s book of the saints, or just do what everybody does now and Google them. It really is my favorite part of the hours to just get a sense of a saint’s times, what he or she dealt with, and how they played into the greater life of our vast Church. For a final challenge, take a minute and think about how you can model some of this individual’s greatness in your own Christian existence.
The Reverend Randy Rogers+