Dear St. Peter family,
Among the terms Scripture uses to describe ALL believers are these three:
- “Saint” – a “holy one” who is set apart FROM the immorality of the world (Eph. 5:3) and set apart FOR God and his love, hospitality, and goodness (Rom 16:2, etc.)
- “Martyr” – a “witness” who testifies to God and what God has done, no matter the cost (Mt 10:18, Lk 24:48, Acts 1:8). The most radical form of this testimony is giving one’s life for it.
- “Priest” – one who speaks and acts on behalf of God to others, and who intercedes for others before God (1 Pt 2:4-9, Rm 15:16, Rev 1:4-6)
Over the years, the Church also has called certain people who have powerfully “modeled” this Christian life, “Saints” (with a capital S). Looking at their example, we can see more clearly what it means to be God’s saints, martyrs, and priests in our own lives and moment in history.
I invite you, then, to think about the following two questions and leave a short answer to one of them, or part of one, in the “Leave a Reply” section below. You might also read through what others have written, and even reply to one another. Remember the 3 B’s: brief, biblical, and beneficial. I also urge you to ground your thoughts by first pondering the caution from my good buddy Dietrich Bonhoeffer that follows the questions. We will have a capstone discussion of the questions and comments at Sunday Adult Bible Study on Go to Meeting at 9am, this Sunday, 5/17.
- What does it mean to be a “saint,” “martyr/witness,” or “priest” at THIS moment in history, in the midst of COVID and especially as restrictions begin to lift? (Think about the meaning of each word: what does it mean to be “set apart” to God’s purposes right here and now? To witness God in response to “these things”? To act as a priestly “go-between” for God and our actual neighbors?). Try to be as concrete as possible: one specific example or story is worth a thousand words.
- What “Saints” in Scripture, Church history, or your personal history might inspire us and help “flesh out” what this might look like?
But again, begin your reflection by first noting the following CAUTION, written by Bonhoeffer in the last year of his life while imprisoned by the Nazis:
“I thought I myself could learn to have faith by trying to live something like a saintly life…Later on I discovered, and am still discovering to this day, that one only learns to have faith by living in the full this-worldliness of life. If one has completely renounced making something of oneself–whether it be a saint or a converted sinner or a church leader (a so-called priestly figure!), a just or an unjust person, a sick or a healthy person–then one throws oneself completely into the arms of God, and this is what I call this-worldliness: living fully in the midst of life’s tasks, questions, successes and failure, experiences, and perplexities. Then one takes seriously no longer one’s own sufferings but rather the suffering of God in the world. Then one stays awake with Christ in Gethsemane. And this is faith; this is metanoia [repentance]. And this is how one becomes a human being, a Christian.”
–Letters and Papers from Prison, DBWE 8, p.486.
Bonhoeffer names two DANGERS that can come with focusing on “sainthood,” “priesthood,” and the like:
- We turn this into an effort to “make something of ourselves.” In other words, what starts as obedience to the call of God subtly starts to be about us: showing how good a Christian we are, how saintly, how priestly, etc. But that is pride, not the fulfillment of God’s true gift and call.
- We withdraw from “living fully in the midst of life’s tasks, questions, successes and failure, experiences, and perplexities.” Bonhoeffer’s point here is that “being a saint” all too easily becomes an abstract “Ideal” that is disconnected from the real world with its perplexities, hard questions, and tough tasks and decisions.
So in answering our two questions, then, we want to remain focused on God; and, we want to be careful to consider the real perplexities of our real world, rather than just invoking abstract ideals, however “biblical” these might be in themselves. A faithful response is always a God-focused response, and a “real world” response.
Have at it, that we might be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith!