Why celebrate Saints?
The church calendar trains us to honor most those people most worthy of being honored.
Different Christian Traditions have various official and unofficial ways of canonizing or otherwise recognizing the faithful departed whose lives of holiness have made a profound impact on the Body of Christ. Some of these Saints even have Feast Days on the Church Calendar in recognition of their life and work. Some of these Feast Days have remained culturally relevant long after the religious significance of the holy day has been lost. (Looking at you, St. Patrick!)
If the Church Calendar’s primary purpose is to help us become more like Jesus, why are there so many Saint Days and commemorations of people other than Jesus sprinkled throughout the Church Year?
As is often the case, St. Paul and C.S. Lewis both have something helpful to say about this great question. And what they have to share might just reveal why honoring Saints from Christian history is perhaps a more important practice today than it has ever been.
The only real sadness, the only real failure, the only great tragedy in life, is to not become a saint.
The first step to living a holy life worthy of the title “Saint” is a recognition of how impossible that task truly is. It is also hard to imagine a Saint that does not spend serious time each day in prayer and the reading of Scripture. But I think there is a third significant step to becoming a Saint, one that St. Paul teaches us in his epistle to the Corinthians: imitate people who imitate Christ.
Follow me as I follow Christ.
1 Corinthians 1:11
Yes, Jesus is the ultimate human example. The Church Calendar is built entirely around commemorating his life and saving work. We do become more like him by adopting his overall pattern of life year after year.
But there are degrees of holiness, and sometimes we can learn quite a bit by spending time with folks who are further along on the same path that we are. By following someone with more experience in the long obedience in the same direction that is the Christian life, we don’t just become more like them; we become more like Jesus, too.
But there is more.
I am convinced we need Saints Days today more than ever.
International online celebrities are rampant, in both the secular and religious worlds. We are invited to follow and honor countless people in a given day.
And without noticing it, we begin to follow and honor people without considering the degree to which we should. This matters because humans always—slowly but surely—become like the people they honor most.
Or, as C.S. Lewis once put it:
Where men are forbidden to honor a king, they honor millionaires, athletes, or film stars instead; even famous prostitutes or gangsters. For spiritual nature, like bodily nature, will be served; deny it food and it will gobble poison.
C.S. Lewis, Equality
You will become like those whom you honor most.
The church calendar trains us to honor most those people most worthy of being honored. In return, we might just find ourselves becoming like them.