“I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” – Ephesians 4:1-6
St. Henry, St. Wanda, St. Carl, St. Carolyn, St. Diane, St. Bill, etc…
This is the beginning of my role call of saints. I never heard of any of them refer to themselves as saints, but that’s what they are to me. I didn’t pray to any of them but I did need their prayers on my behalf. They were the deacons and musicians, the Sunday school teachers and council members of the church that helped form my faith. As far as I know, none of them ever levitated or experienced the stigmata, or cured cancer with a single prayer. Yet through them God worked wonders.
I’d like to think that, with a bit of reflection, you too could identify saints in your story. I hope you can see those who kept the faith and responded to the better angels of our common nature. As we now measure the pandemic in months, we need sources of encouragement to refresh our resolve. Saints, past and present, serve that simple purpose. They remind us that God is eternal, stretching from before our current troubles and lasting long after the trouble has passed. They remind us that God’s faithfulness doesn’t have to stay in heaven but can be brought to life within us as well.
During the 14th century, the plague ravaged the world, killing tens of millions of people within a few years. There were many Christian women and men who persevered in their care for others during this time: Catherine of Sienna, Pope Clement VI, and countless nuns whose storied fearlessness and humility continues to ring through history. Yet, during this dark decade these were not the only Christians to give people hope. Throughout the course of the plague many people looked to the 14 Holy Helpers.
The 14 Holy Helpers were saints from old. Almost all of them lived nearly 1,000 years before the plague and all of them were martyrs. When living, they were not a group. They lived miles and years apart from one another. How they came to be packaged together is somewhat of a mystery. However, to those in the 14th century who endured the Black Death, this group came to be known as “helpers in need”. People listened to their life stories and heard hope. While the name, “Holy Helpers” may have a Christianized superhero overtone to it, the names of the actual men and women of this super team sound mundane.
St. Denis, St. Barbara, St. George, St. Catherine, St. Christopher, etc…
To be revered as a saint is a process that often involves the verification of miracles. Yet reading through the lives of the 14 Holy Helpers reveals very little of the supernatural. One, St. Blasé, helped a boy choking on a fishbone.1 Another, St. Christopher, helped people of his village cross a dangerous stream. Another, St. Giles, earned the trust of a leader in his country and listened with patience and grace as that leader unburdened his heavy heart to St. Giles.
While the amount of information and the stories of each of the 14 vary a great deal, there are truths that unify them. Not a single one of these saints were perfect. They knew their faults and their failures. I am sure they would have recoiled at the idea of being called a saint. None of them were faultless.
1 I do have to admit that the name, St. Blasé, does sound superhero-ish.
None of us are. The same grace that held them together, strengthened their knees, and lifted their countenance, is the same grace given to you. And it is by that grace that all of them were steadfast. For most of these saints, their lives were not notable for what they did, their lives were praised for what they didn’t do. They did not abandon their principles and values when pressure, deadly pressure, bore down upon them. In story after story, they are tempted and threatened, maligned and denounced. Yet they refused to turn their back on the promise that God’s love will not fail. They stayed the course of their convictions. They remained true to the calling they had received; follow Christ.
Saints of God, this is a shared calling. We too are called behold a vision embodied by Christ. A vision of love’s victory over death and despair. A vision proclaimed in prophetic cries for justice and reconciliation. A vision of salvation, where we are reconciled to one another and to God.
To live a life worthy of our calling is to live in hopeful light of that vision. It can be easy to only hear an exhortation in Ephesians 4:1, as though the verse was essentially saying, “Do better and follow all of the commandments.” This verse is not simply a wagging of the finger, it is a nodding of the head.
It is God’s “yes” to creation. Yes, there is a vision of love and healing that endures; yes, you are included in that vision; yes, you have a role to play; yes, you are a part of this saintly community.
Friends, you are the saints of this day; of this pandemic time. You are the Holy Helpers, 21st century Hawai‘i chapter. By the grace of God, you are the ones who encourage and inspire others in more ways than you know. Together, with the Holy Spirit as our guide and our sustainer, will we endure this time. Together, with our focus on Christ, we will live a life worthy of the calling we have received.
1. Who are the women and men who have encouraged and inspired your faith? Take 10 minutes to write them a simple note of thanks or offer a prayer of gratitude for them in your life.
2. Have you ever felt called to do something or to be something? Think of a time something “just felt right” or when you felt like you were in the right place or when your gifts were affirmed.
3. According to Ephesians, part of living a “life worthy” of our calling, means striving to maintain the unity of the body of Christ. How might you help to maintain the unity of the body of Christ now?
4. What value, principle, or scripture helps to keep you centered during this time of pandemic?
5. One of the most repeated attributes of God in the scriptures is, “steadfast-loving-kindness”. Is the steadfast nature of God meaningful for you? If so, why?
6. Is there a practice of the faith that you did at one time that you could consider picking back up again? What is it?