Heroes Matthew 5:1-12 | Revelation 7:2-4, 9-14 November, 4, 2007
All Saints Day is a Christian holiday that has been around since the 4th century. After 1700 years of fairly strong Christian dominated political and cultural power in the west, we generally think little of the day, especially when we do not recognize saints in our tradition. But this holiday originated in the late 3rd or 4th century, in response to those who had lost their lives during the early Christian persecutions. By 373, St. Ephraim the Syrian, mentioned the celebration of an all saints service as common place. Actually, it is catholic policy that a every saint is venerated, so when you take into account the number of saints that were in existence after the persecutions up through the 700’s, a person would have to venerate multiple saints a day. So, the answer was simple, make a day or as it would become, an eight day festival, venerating all the saints. Now for those who do not know, the veneration of saints, is a special act of honoring a [[saint]: a dead person who has been identified as singular in the traditions of the religion, and through them honoring God who made them and in whose image they are made. Respectfully bowing, kissing, or making the sign of the cross before a saint’s icon, relics, or statue often shows veneration outwardly.
While people can often focus more on the observance than the theology, basically, veneration is celebrating the good of a person’s life, because it reflects the divine in our creation, as opposed to the icky parts of the people who are not saints. This was not just a good idea, but it is needed in times of persecution and trouble. What is it we are talking about? Hope, possibility, in other words, Heroes.
Leah’s father mentioned to me that the Greeks, as usual, had a saying about heroes that went something like this: “A people are known by the heroes they crown.” Now, In modern, pop-psychology terms one might translate it as, it loosely translates to mean: “Tell me whom you admire and I will tell you who you are.” Now, this might cause a person to think on either of those for a minute and become positively depress you to realize the amount of airtime and attention much of our society spends on the Britney’s, Jessica’s, P-Diddy’s and a similar changing but not very different cast of public characters.
But I have to admit, the more I read articles and commentary talking about these people being in the spotlight as the downfall of society, the more I question it. Often we as adults tend to blame things on children and focus on the young eroding society, which, I believe, is a false assumption. While we may not like the crazy media people, they come and go. Do we really crown them as the heroes of our society? They are a mere form of something deeper. I believe, a good number of people crown conspicuous economic consumption as their hero. A hero is what drives us as an example of how we are to live. From the early games shows like 21 to the abundance of ‘reality’ television, people have cared less about who is on the show than the money and lifestyle that person represents.
Who then are our heroes? To better answer this, we need to see who we are crowning, don’t we? In a study done in Canada, which is really not that far away, researchers found that the largest ‘hero’ percentage clustered among the parents, siblings, and other relatives the children are in contact with. I know this is true for a good number of the people I know, even though some of them would not admit it.
Why is it then that these pop icons get so much attention? In my opinion, which is not researched, but I still believe there is something to it, famous people are collections of values that people hold up because of their own interests, not idol worship. In other words, we will reward behaviors in those who are famous that encourage our understanding of ‘the good life.” Just because we want what they have does not make them a hero. For instance, my parents thought my childhood hero was Spiderman. I wanted Spiderman lunchboxes, vitamins, and Spiderman clothes. On the surface one would believe this to be true, especially because I climbed the cabinets to get to the Spiderman vitamins one night, but apparently Spiderman has a weakness to ipecac.
The fact of the matter was, I did not want to be a geeky scientist, nor did I really want to go around saving people all the time. In the end, I just wanted to not be a sidekick. You see, my brother’s favorite Superhero was Batman, which made me Robin when we played. I simply wanted to be my own independent superhero when we played. I wanted a chance to be the important one.
Just because someone is famous, or looked to, does not make them a hero or a roll model. We look at famous people because we hope we can learn how to get where they are, but they are not necessarily the heroes. The heroes are more often than not fathers, mothers, grand parents, brothers and uncles, but what are the values that they teach… or lets be honest that each one of us teach? After all, isn’t the American dream a financial one? Do not most people live lives where they desire the stuff of this world?
Swedenborg told us, “For what is in the heavens cannot be seen by the eyes of a man's body, but are seen by the eyes of his spirit.” How many of us live lives where we are truly living for the things that cannot be seen by our eyes and other senses? If a saint is a person who lets the glory of the Lord shine through them, and heaven is a place where people go to do the Lord’s bidding, One who is in heaven, aka an angel, is a saint. These are the people who have lived for the things that are unseen, things that are heavenly.
It does not surprise me that the veneration of the saints were collapsed into a single day, after all culture does not value the things it takes to become a saint. Sacrifice, trial, temptation, and a loss of the things of this world are not values we generally pass on to the people who look up to us. From Revelations “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” It is a gruesome image, is it not.
Robes are the ideas, values, and truths that we put on throughout our lives, they are the clothes of the spirit if you will. If I had kept my same truths and values that made me want to be Spiderman as a child, I would be wearing very dirty robes. But he was not my roll model or hero. He was just a suit I put on to try and best those around me. My greatest role models were my parents, family, and teachers—the people I knew. As I grew, I didn’t test Spiderman’s values; I tested my parents’ values. While I know I am not done yet, this testing is work and it is difficult, You see, as we grow our robes are constantly bombarded with tests and trials. It is only to the degree that we learn to be in the love and innocence of the Lord that we purify our robes and lead a heavenly life.
What does that mean? Only to the degree we actively ask ourselves if we are living a heavenly life of the Lord will we do so. This is what makes a Saint such a great icon to look to. The values they held help us question if we are really living the life we should be living. More often than not, I am guessing people feel like they are falling short, so why not collapse all the days to one get it over with so we can get back to what it important to us?
Saints are raised above normal historical figures, in my opinion for one reason alone, love. The capacity to give of ones self out of love to the Lord or to the neighbor is what makes them Godly people. It is what makes their lives seem so unreachable to the rest of us. It is the Love that shines through the saint, the love that we recognize as the power of God flowing through them.
Historic saints and good doers are different than our modern pop icons, but are either of them the role-models or actual heroes of future generations? I think not. We are the heroes and roll models to the ones around us. We are the people who teach what it means to live to the future generations.
We do not need to venerate saint’s daily, but what if every day we could look to the Lord to help us clean our robes? What better place to look to learn to live, after all the Lord is the King of love. What if every day the people in our lives looked at us and saw the love of the neighbor and the Lord as our guiding principle? Then, the world would have angels to look at everyday, which is far better than what the world is consumed with at present.
What is the stuff you want to know about? What are the magazines you subscribe to? What are the books you read? What are the shows you watch? Who are the people you look to? How often is it a saint? The Bible? Or the Lord? We have the choice to become the roll-models and heroes for those around us. We have the choice to open our interior sight to a heavenly light, if we are willing to wash ourselves in the love, truth, and innocence of the Lord.