The Saints We Need

There are many different kinds of saints in Christian history. Both the Western (Latin) and Eastern (Byzantine) traditions have numerous categories to refer to various types of saints in the Church. Most importantly you have Martyrs (who were killed for their faith) and Confessors (who lived holy lives but died a natural death). Beyond these you have categories like Military / Warrior Saints‎, Holy Unmercenaries, Hermits, Wonderworkers, StylitesMyrrhbearers, Right-Believers, Virgins, and even Phallic Saints amongst many others.

The question I’d like to ask is what kind of saint(s) do we need today?

On the surface this might seem like a silly question, since we doubtless need all the different kinds of saints we can get. Right? I suppose that is true, but there is more to it than that.

G. K. Chesterton described how each generation (or age) gets its own saint(s) according to its unique and special needs. In this way, successive saints (while in agreement on the universal Catholic truth) will necessarily apply that truth differently as each generation suffers under its demons and zeitgeists and, hence, its corresponding errors and fallacies. Chesterton writes:

“The Saint is a medicine because he is an antidote. Indeed that is why the saint is often a martyr; he is mistaken for a poison because he is an antidote. He will generally be found restoring the world to sanity by exaggerating whatever the world neglects, which is by no means always the same element in every age. Yet each generation seeks its saint by instinct; and he is not what the people want, but rather what the people need… Therefore it is the paradox of history that each generation is converted by the saint who contradicts it most.”

G.K. Chesterton, St. Thomas Aquinas, Ignatius Press, p. 22.

Given our societies’ many blindspots, countless delusions, and rank heresies, one wonders just what kind of saint would correspond to the needs of our age. What would 21st century saints look like? Will they fit into any of the many political categories we are so used to today: conservatives, progressives, fundamentalists, social justice warriors, and otherwise virtue-signalers, etc? Or would they not rather challenge those very worldly, and politically motivated, assumptions and paradigms, while pointing to a much higher vision of the kingdom of God?

Political correctness takes many shapes and sizes and is therefore not the particular possession of any specific party or spectrum (i.e. left/right). Rather, political correctness might be described as the general tendency to fall in-step with the various political “powers that be” (often both right and left wing).

But if Chesterton’s “paradox of history” is true, “that each generation is converted by the saint who contradicts it most,” just what kind of saint would come along to contradict our favorite ideas and demolish our sacred cows? We can rest assured they will receive nothing but the rancor and animosity from the world and worldly-minded. Who knows they may even become martyrs. If Christianity history is true, than perhaps nothing should be more likely.

Let us keep this all in mind as we try to anticipate and especially pray for the present and future saints we need.

St. Joan of Arc by John Everett Millais

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