Psalm 146; Mark 12:28-34
I met Margaret Sinyanze more than 10 years ago during the Beads of Hope Campaign in the United Church. The campaign was designed to raise money for projects related to AIDS relief around the world, with a special focus on Africa. In celebration of its 40th anniversary the United Church Women across Canada sponsored a group of us to travel to Zambia to visit some of the sites and organizations being funded by the campaign, so that we could return and share that experience with others. Margaret was a member of the United Church of Zambia in Lusaka, and a tireless advocate for people living with HIV/AIDS at a time when the stigma and misinformation attached to AIDS was huge and millions were dying. Every day she’d rotate through her selections of T-shirts, with slogans like “My friend with AIDS is still my friend”. She was raising her teenage niece, because her sister and brother-in-law had both died of AIDS. She welcomed all of us – all of the Canadian travellers, and all of the Zambia folk who travelled with us – into her meagre home and offered us hospitality from her slim earnings as a church worker. She was instrumental in a program that taught women with HIV/AIDS and those who were raising AIDS orphans to dye cotton cloth and tailor clothing both traditional and modern. I still have the beautiful outfit that was made for me by one of the young women – though sadly, I’ve grown out of it! Margaret was an amazing woman – so full of joy, and love and determination! She is one of my saints.
Another of my saints is Mary Jo Leddy, a Canadian writer, professor and passionate proponent of rights for refugees. She wrote a beautiful and challenging book called, “Radical Gratitude”, in which she talks about how gratitude can transform our relationship to our culture and each other. She is a professor at Massey College and Regis College, part of the Ontario Refugee Coalition, as well as being the director of the Romero House Community for Refugees. Romero House provides a community living situation where staff and interns live with refugee families in a neighbourhood setting. She is also very active in the Sanctuary movement, which provides emergency space in houses of worship for legitimate refugee claimants who are under danger of deportation due to backlogs and process issues in the Department of Immigration. In 2014 there were 7 sanctuary cases in Canada. Mary Jo is one of my saints.
A third saint of mine is Joyce Rupp. Many of you will have heard me use Joyce’s prayers in small group gatherings. She is a Roman Catholic sister in the order of the Sisters of Mercy, who has nurtured the spirit of thousands of people over the course of her lifetime, through her poems, devotionals, prayer chants and workshop leadership. I used her book “Open the Door” for my morning devotions during my sabbatical time. She has published 16 books, and at 72 continues to write, tour and publish, while maintaining her relationship in community with the others of her order and significant periods of prayer and silence. She is one of my saints too.
Why are these women saints for me? They are saints because in their different ways they not only exemplify love of God and love of neighbour, but they invite others into ways of living out those two greatest commandments. All three are faithful women; all three care deeply about the lives of others; all 3 participate in enhancing the life of others – truly helping others touch God’s abundant life.
You will be able to name other saints: some of them well-known, like South African archbishop Desmond Tutu (whose daughter will be speaking here in Victoria at the end of January); or Mother Theresa; or Martin Luther King jr; or even some of the traditional saints of the church – St Joseph the Worker, St Mary Magdalene, St Theresa of Avila. Many – if not all – of these saints, ancient and modern, are distinguished by their outpouring of love for God and for their neighbours – and for the ability to draw others closer to God by the way they live their lives.
None of these people were perfect; none of them are without fault. Many of them struggled with despair and doubt, anger or fear. Just like you and I, they would have lost their tempers, said words they regretted, done things they wish they hadn’t, and probably thought of themselves as pretty ordinary people in many ways. I was looking up some of the Catholic saints online, and apparently when St Bernadette, known for her visions at Lourdes in France as a young woman, was asked if she had to struggle with the sin of pride because she had been singled out for visions of Mary the Mother of Jesus, she said, “The Blessed Virgin only chose me because I was the most ignorant!” (Wikipedia)
Some saints are extraordinarily gifted. Other saints are as ordinary as you and I – except that there is nothing ordinary about loving God, and loving one’s neighbour. In a culture that prizes individualism, narcissism, self-promotion, and competition, giving one’s life to the Sacred and placing others’ needs as at least equal to our own can be revolutionary! You and I share that calling with all the saints, known and unknown down through the ages, and no matter how unlikely it might seem, you and I too, are saints. Love of God, love of neighbour. To this, we saints are called. Amen.