“I sing a song of the saints of God…”

Published 5:43 pm Thursday, August 4, 2022

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This is the beginning of the first verse of a popular Episcopal hymn (#293) which tells us many things and examples of saints.  But just WHO are saints?  Dictionaries define a saint as: a person who is considered to be holy and virtuous, and mainly is already in heaven…in other words, dead but lived a holy and virtuous life while on this earth. Other definitions refer to a saint as a person who has been “canonized” or declared having been a saint by a particular religious denomination, again, a person who is already dead.

My dear kindergarten teacher, Sister Stella, always presented us children with short and clear definitions while in her class.  Sister Stella defined a saint as simply a friend of God.  Think of it; a friend of God requires having a pretty darn good relationship with the Almighty.  Being anyone’s friend requires acceptance of that person, of seeing the good in that other person, of wanting the best for that other person, our friend.  The friends both know each other, respect each other, and do their best for each other.  That includes our relationship, our friendship, with God.

According to Sister Stella, you can be quite alive and still be a saint. Death does not have a definitive place in this relationship.  Our hymn tells us the same thing, saints and friends of God are patient, brave and true; saints can be doctors, queens or kings, or even a shepherdess as the old hymn says.  Saints as friends of God love to do His will wherever they are, at work, in school, in hospitals, at sea, anywhere on this great planet of ours. They are living people who do their best, with God’s help, to do the right thing in their everyday lives.

Now, some of the more formal saints in history did do extraordinary things, such as Joan of Arc or the disciple Paul.  Think of the martyrs who died at the hands of the Romans and lions in the arenas back in the beginning of Christianity.  Yes, they were brave and strong in their faith.  But today not many of us are called to choose death because of our religious beliefs.  Today when we look around us in this world, we can see many ways to show the world that we are God’s friends.  When I was a youngster in school many years ago, we called these ways to show God’s love as the “corporal works of mercy”.  You know them as well as I do: feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give succor to the homeless, etc. If we are to call ourselves Christians then we are called to work on our friendship with this God we love and proclaim. We do this by following those two great commandments we are given in Scripture: love God and love our neighbor.  Those two commandments comprise all that we need to do while still on this earth to become true friends of God, to become saints.

So, we do not have to face the lions in the arena, we do not have to worry about being burned at the stake for our faith, at least not in 2022 in Beaufort County, NC.  But we do need to think about our relationship with God and work on our friendship with Him, especially by showing love for our neighbors. We are all called to be saints; that is the greatness of the all-loving and all-caring God. And it is not really too hard to accomplish.  You see, God will also work on our friendship with Him.  Just as the old hymn concludes and tells us: “and I mean, God helping, to be one too!”

Ann-Marie Montague is a Beaufort County resident and is a licensed lay preacher in the Episcopal Church.