What makes a saint? 33&1/3: The Final Insult

As part of my study for this week’s All Saints’ sermon, I’m rereading the “Principles of Revision” for the calendar of The Episcopal Church with a special interest into how it has changed over the past decade.  I’m comparing the Principles from the 2006 edition of Lesser Feasts and Fasts; Holy Women, Holy Men; and the proposed A Great Cloud of Witnesses.  First and foremost, it should be noted that a criteria for consideration in any of the three texts, one must be dead, though the latest incarnation does drop the 50 year requirement in favor of “a reasonable period of time.”  Sorry Archbishop Tutu, you need not apply. (For more on the dead thing, see yesterday’s post)

What strikes me, and I am not alone in this, is the shift, beginning with HWHM in 2009, away from the requirement that all those remembered on the calendar must be Christians.  In Principle #2, Christian Discipleship, in HWHM, it still states, as it did in 2006 LFF that “Baptism is… a necessary prerequisite for inclusion on the Calendar.”  This was not the case in practice however when they chose to include all four of the Dorchester Chaplains on February 3rd, including Alexander D. Goode, Rabbi and Chaplain in the United States Army who died trying to save the lives of the men aboard the USAT Dochester which was struck by a U-Boat torpedo on February 2, 1943.

Since then, the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music has suggested a change in policy such that “There may be occasional exceptional cases where not all of [the baptismal] promises are successfully kept, or when the person in question is not  Christian, yet the person’s life and work still significantly impacts the ongoing life of the church an contributes to our fuller understanding of the Gospel.”

We can argue whether or not these four soldiers who doing their jobs are more worthy of recognition than any others, but that’s not of interest to me here.  What is of interest to me is the changing narrative of faithful living and of sainthood.  As I noted yesterday, Paul uses the word “saint” 41 times in the NRSV, and it always refers to the whole body of the faithful, those committed to the love and service of Jesus Christ.  I have no doubt that Rabbi Goode had heroic faith, what else would have allowed him to remove his own life jacket and hand it to someone else, but what service does it do him to be included on a calendar ostensibly reserved for faithful Christians?  Isn’t this just a step or two away from the Mormon’s posthumously baptizing Holocaust victims?  It seems to me that these brave men, Rabbi Goode chief among them, can be remembered for their heroism without requiring a place on a calendar which is commonly, though incorrectly, referred to as the calendar of saints.  Perhaps I’m naive, but I’m of the opinion that at the very least, faith in Christ should be a requirement of Christian sainthood.

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2 thoughts on “What makes a saint? 33&1/3: The Final Insult

  1. Interesting question… While the Four Chaplains were lifted up by the Chaplain Corps of the US Air Force many, many times during my 26 years in uniform, I never would have gone beyond the example they gave of selfless sacrifice that was and is common to the faith perspectives represented (Reformed, Methodist, Catholic & Jewish). For me personally as a Chaplain now retired, their example is to me what we are called to be as people of faith. Spending less time checking “religious preferences on Dog Tags” and more time simply serving all God’s children as we are able.

    As a Presbyterian who has an appreciation for the “saints” in terms of “following the example of the good ones of old” (Columba’s Blessing from Celtic Daily Prayer, Northumbria Community), I stop short of veneration or intercession. However, I do look to these lives as wisdom and witness.

    I do agree with you that they should not have a “feast day” for the reasons you stated. Thanks for the reflection you offered and the opportunity to share my own musings.

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