How to Become a Saint


Who will convert this generation of ours?

G.K. Chesterton says it is the great paradox of history that each generation is converted by the saint who contradicts it the most. Chesterton believes when a generation gets too worldly it is up to the saint, or the Church, to rebuke it.

When you rebuke someone or something (like a generation or a movement) you express sharp disapproval or criticism for it. This is almost unheard of today. It’s not cool to rebuke anything. Tolerate, that’s a more winsome way to express the Christian faith.

Chesterton says, however, that each generation chooses its saint by instinct. And he is not what they want, but what they need.

A saint is someone who runs incongruous with the modern world, like that weird uncle of yours who lives on a farm and seems a little off because he doesn’t like the internet. Well, maybe that’s pushing it.

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If you are a Christian, you are a saint.

“Christ did not tell his apostles that they were only the excellent people,” writes Chesterton, “or the only excellent people, but that they were the exceptional people; the permanently incongruous and incompatible people; and the text about the salt of the earth is really as sharp and shrewd and tart as the taste of salt. It is because they were the exceptional people, that they must not lose their exceptional quality.”

When the world leans too much in one direction, Christianity surfaces and offers the course correction. “In a world that was too stolid, Christianity returned in the form of a vagabond.”

Where does the world lean now?

Is the world too angry? Does it lack reason? Does it embrace chaos and division? Is it being subverted by a new Marxism?

Some might say our secular world embraces a kind of disenchantment; a loss of the roundness of life. By roundness, I mean the spiritual shape of our world.

The postmodern mind locks onto a vision of the world that dims, reduces, that removes the super from nature so that all we’re left standing with are bits-n-bobs of matter.

The world needs an incongruent people who stand not against this despairing world but outside of it, calling it to something other.

If disenchantment spirals the world toward despair then the world needs saints who walk the path of enchantment. Who speak in songs. Who live in wonder.

If the postmodern eye dims, then the saint must see.

The German philosopher Josef Pieper says our ability to see, as humans, is in sharp decline; so much so that he asks:

“How can man be saved from becoming a totally passive consumer of mass-produced goods and a subservient follower beholden to every slogan the managers may proclaim?

“The real question is: How can man preserve and safeguard the foundation of his spiritual dimension and an uncorrupted relationship to reality?”

Man’s inner richness is at stake.

The world lacks the ability to see — to take the time to see; to relinquish the pace that keeps us from seeing the particulars of reality, and thus even reality itself.

Our pace annihilates this aspect of reality. The ability to see is essential to man’s ability to accurately make sense of this world, this is the definition of truth: that which affirms and corresponds to reality.

John Ruskin, the Victorian artist and critic, desired his readers to be people of sight. He said that life was not about pace. Rather, it demanded the ability to truly see. Ruskin is renowned for his ability to see and to discern, abilities in short supply in our world.

Last week I suggested five ways in which the Church has fallen under the weight of non-thinking. I based my suggestions on the observations of Ernest Dimnet, a French priest and writer, who says thinking people are people of vision.

They possess the ability to see when everyone else follows along blindly.

The Church, I suggested, lacks vision due to their constant pandering after {worldly?} relevancy. They desire relevance to the point they fail to see beauty.

What are we to do with the dissonance we perceive between our feelings of beauty in the world and the constant grating of modern society?

Even atheists admit to the tremendous feeling of wonder and awe in the world. Though they content themselves with debunking any kind of divine source to beauty, do Christians do much better?

We content ourselves with reclaiming drab grey box-buildings with no windows, no natural light, and we fill them with overly produced worship shows branded and boxed for our spiritual consumption.

We overemphasize organizational best practices in the name of efficiency, stewardship, and bottom line “impact.”

We claim to bear witness to the Truth, but we fail to bear witness to her sister, Beauty.

And so we proclaim an incomplete message to the world; banging our drums of Truth, reason, and moralism, while we fill our sacred gathering places with kitsch, and preach politically correct self-help messages.

We have packaged the God of Job into a podcast, even as his Word sustains the galaxies, oceans, and our very breath.

We dance in moth-eaten moments of this life and sing about glory and holiness but do we truly reflect God’s glory Monday through Saturday?

How can we understand holiness when our cultural refrain shouts for justice at the expense of God’s Otherness.

The Christian faces a culture bent on self-expression, and scientific positivism, which produces an egocentric society that rejects God and embraces the material world as our final word on the hard questions of life.

The end result of such a philosophy, however, can only lead to defining life as utterly meaningless. I am reminded of Iris Murdoch’s stinging critique.

She says, “we no longer see man against a background of values, of realities which transcend him. We picture man as a brave naked will surrounded by an easily comprehended empirical world.”

So what will save us? What will open our eyes, and help us to see? What will recover our inner richness? What will infuse us with saintly saltiness, to borrow from Chesterton?


We must regain our grasp and gaze on God’s beauty, and not just his moral goodness.

We must join with Jonathan Edwards who saw God as “the foundation and fountain of all being and all beauty.”

He did not view beauty as a consolation of this world, nor as a refuge, but as the platform of his theology and of his thoughts.

We must calibrate our sensibilities toward a way of living and being that champions beauty.

We must reposition beauty as the crown of our thoughts.

But beauty requires us to see.

It requires us to think. It does not passively move upon us or in and throughout this world. It makes demands upon us. It says, “Be attentive!” It says, “Be still.” It says, “Be reverent!”

Harvard professor Elaine Scarry believes beauty possesses the power to save us. How?

Because it invites us to her and greets us. Why is this significant?

Because it is as if the beautiful thing welcoming you “has entered into, and consented to your being in its midst. You want to be there, but perhaps, more importantly, the world also wants you.”

It gives life. It begets and creates in us the desire to beget.

It eases and calms.

It possesses the power to cause situations of harm or unease to fade into the background. When we see beauty, either with the physical eyes or the eyes of the heart, we somehow find focus and the ability to hope again.

It causes joy. Joy is the wonder-gasp, our wind-sucking once we behold the beautiful. C.S. Lewis felt beauty like this and it’s how he describes his encounter with beauty. First a gasp, a quickening, then the rapture.

Who will stand and count themselves as one of Chesterton’s salty saints, his incongruous people?

As the world, yea even the Church, loses its ability to see, who will …

Be still – Who will change their rhythm of life to match the incongruous rhythm of heaven? Who will make real-world decisions regarding their pace of life, their family or personal schedule, their manner in which they worship?

Stillness is not only a matter of sitting still. It more acutely calls us to restraint. To limit. To make decisions based not only on finances, but on quality of time, quality or resources, and the limiting aspect that accompanies the making of something beautiful.

Be attentive – Who will listen? Who will limit distractions, for themselves and for their family? Attention requires an amount of focus seldom encountered in our world. In the business world, it is the leader who can remain focused and go deep into their work who leads best.

To attend requires the sight and patience of the gardener. She works not with [an] immediacy of mind, but with a vision of the harvest. To attend requires a deliberateness that works over time; the reward of which is the bloom, the fruit, the gathering.

Be a lifesaver – Even as our culture drenches itself in the fountain of death, the incongruous saint must define their lives by the springs of life they offer. The saint invites, she greets, and in so doing tells a despairing world they matter, they’re welcome in her midst. Her personal life, family life, work life drips with the waters of ease, warmth, and nurture.

Who will walk into paradox living, into the incongruity of beauty, and offer the world what it needs most?

Timothy Willard
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Tim's authored four books, including Shine So Bright, a children's Christmas story, and is finishing his first novel. He and his wife, Christine, co-founded The Edges and are writing a book they hope will inspire married couples to stick together no matter what. He and Christine live in Charlotte, North Carolina with their three pixie-daughters. Sign-up here to follow their work.