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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.

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.

Timothy Willard
Timothy Willard
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.

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