A Possible Saint, Florence, Italy
I have a two-volume set on my bookshelf entitled The Collected Sermons of William Sloane Coffin. Coffin served The Riverside Church in NYC from 1977-1982. The books contain over 600 sermons; I’ve set out to read one-a-day.
Today is All Saints Day, a designation even secular calendars acknowledge. In his sermon, “Those Stirring Saints” (1980), Coffin, influenced by Phyllis McGinley’s book, Saint-Watching, observes:
“The secret of the saints is that they consider moderation a sin. Their dreams are wild, ambitions filled with a kind of desperate vitality. Of course, today many of them would appear to us as crazy. But let us not forget: ‘It is the cracked ones who let the light through.’ What really sets them apart from us ordinary folk is the literal way they take the central imperatives of the Gospel. Does Jesus command us to feed the hungry? The saints feed the hungry. Does Jesus command us to clothe the naked? The saints clothe the naked. Does Jesus command us to sell all we have and give to the poor, to go forth and preach to all nations, to turn the other cheek, to return good for evil, to love God and our neighbor as ourselves? The saints do all these things, because saints believe these commandments mean exactly what they say.
“Saints are lovestruck, God-intoxicated people, that’s why they are stirring. That’s why they are the Mount Everests of the species. That’s why they master their environment. Saints are conquerors because it’s not those who can inflict the most, but those who can suffer the most, who conquer the world. As one of them said, ‘Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things’ (I Corinthians 13:7). Ignatius Loyola was imprisoned eight times by the Inquisition. St. Teresa of Avila also ran afoul of it, as did a multitude of other saints. St. Paul was jailed, flogged, and perhaps even beheaded under Nero. And we know what happened to our Lord.”
I guess what all this saint-talk suggests to me is that you never know when you might meet one. Sometimes saints appear as artists and poets and teachers and coaches. No one can predict what the next one will look like. Just about anyone, you and me included, can be a saint. Even wrinkled accordion players.