If I were to offer a definition of the term ‘saint,’ it would be this:
someone who has set out to discover their identity, or to forge their place in the world;
only to be met by God - or by God’s messenger, God-in-disguise – who holds out to them their true identity, within which they will find their deepest, fullest expression;
and they embrace it.
And in embracing the gift of themselves, as gift, they are made holy – set apart for God’s purposes in and through them, for the very thing they were given to contribute.
As God works to bring vibrant, inter-connected life out of chaos, a saint is not someone whose life is without mess. They are not an ‘ideal idea,’ a story that the story-teller could get round to writing some day if she were so inclined: they are marks on pages, sometimes smooth and at other times jagged.
The invitation tends to come when all seems lost – not often to the very young, unless they have already suffered loss beyond their years – for only then have we become bold enough to dare into truth; and only then have we become weak enough to let truth dare into us.
The messenger – the postman who delivers our true self? A vision, of Christ upon the cross, or of his mother. An angel, wings unfurled, or wings concealed. A leper. A dying child in a not-God-forsaken slum. At times they come in finery; more often, clothed in poor man’s tattered coat, all but incoherent. Even a ‘brute’ animal, for all creation sings the defiant song of God’s salvation in the night.
Joseph is not a saint because he is prepared to offer Mary and Jesus a roof over their heads. He is a saint because, having set out to construct the life of a builder, and only dream of the past-glories of his ancestors, he embraces the invitation to become David’s true son and build a home on earth for our true Home.
And what of you? And what of me?
When will we be held-out our true selves? And how will we respond?
And what of an entire region, which, having a proud past – right pride, the stuff of boldness – and having suffered great loss – the closure of the pits and shipyards – receives a visitation from an Angel of the North?