“All creatures – being a mixture, as it were, of perfection and imperfection – have been used by the Scripture to teach us about both good and evil. There is not one from which we cannot draw an analogy to teach us about one or the other. . . . Even the rose is not so perfect as to be without some imperfection. Though it is very beautiful in the morning, in full bloom, with a delightful and pleasing fragrance, yet in the evening it is so faded and wilted that its condition can be used to symbolize the voluptuousness and delights of a worldly life. . . . Yet Our Lord, who is infinite Wisdom, compared Himself to it. Speaking of himself he said: I am like a stalk, or the branch of a rose tree.”
St. Francis de Sales, Sermon for Palm Sunday, 1622
St. Maximilian Kolbe is known and admired for the heroic way in which he laid down his life. A prisoner at the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz, he volunteered to take the place of another prisoner who had been condemned to die.
A number of years ago, a group of American pilgrims was visiting the Franciscan community in Cracow where Maximilian had lived. One pilgrim, lingered behind the group, looking at the saint’s choir stall. An old monk walked by and, not realizing the American pilgrim understood Polish, shook his head and muttered, “I still can’t believe they canonized the S.O.B.” Maximilian was a martyr and a saint, but he evidently had his rough edges as well.
Sanctity is not a guarantee of human perfection. In his Palm Sunday Sermon in 1622, Francis de Sales said, “There is absolutely nothing wrong when one recounts the faults and sins of the saints while speaking of their virtues. On the contrary, those who write their history do a great disservice to everyone when they conceal their faults under the pretext of better honoring them.” Francis goes on to contrast two ways of reacting to the frailty of saints. One, which he compares to wasps corrupting all that is good, is to see in a saint’s failing an excuse for one’s own sinful behavior, or even use it as an excuse to question the good the saint did in his/her lives. The other response, which Francis compares to bees extracting honey from flowers, is to “take note of faults in the lives of the saints, not only to recognize the goodness that God has extended in pardoning them, but also to teach us to abhor and avoid them, and to do penance for them, just as the saint did.”
May we see in the saints, not plaster statues somehow free from the temptations of life, but men and women like us, who had to struggle against temptation and who were not always successful. What makes them saints is the fact that they did not give up, but continued that struggle, often to a heroic degree. May we imitate them and be the people God calls us to be.
Fr. Donald Heet OSFS