I believe in the saints. Not the traditional saints of the church, though I do also believe in these holy men and women, but the ordinary saints of everyday life, the men and women who read these words. I was raised in a Catholic home where the saints were certainly a part of the lexicon, but it wasn’t until I attended a Lutheran college in the Midwest that I really came to understand the saints.
Father Albert Bischoff, S.J. was the Catholic campus minister at Augustana College, my alma mater. This Jesuit priest found a way into my soul through a simple phrase: “How are you doing, Saint?” It was not that he singled me out as an especially holy member of the undergraduate population, for I was certainly not that. Fr. B. addressed everyone he walked by on campus as “saint.” And though this may have been a useful tool when he did not know someone’s name, it was much more than that. He actually lived out of a radical belief in the incarnation.
Wednesday night chapel was always crowded. I believe this was due in large part to Fr. B’s presence on campus. The chapel was filled not only by those who attended bible studies, but by the football lineman, the sorority sisters, the pre-med student taking a study break, and the pre-happy hour students taking a break from their social life. The chapel was dark and quiet. Forty-five minutes broken only by a five-minute reflection and an opportunity for communion. All present in the chapel sat in the dark with the firm conviction that at least someone on this campus saw beyond their insecurities and flaws, beyond their own best sense of themselves, and named each and every one of them as a saint. It makes you hold your chin up a little higher, study a little longer, and be a little nicer to the person next to you when the holiest man you have ever known calls you a saint. You know better of yourself, but if he says it, there must be some truth to it.
I now work at a small Catholic college. I find myself saying a simple phrase in my head as I meet each student in each new class, interact with every colleague, break bread with members of my family, and interact with the stranger at the grocery store or across the way at the other gas pump: “How are you doing, Saint?” The communion of saints may not be defined by every theologian in the same way, but as a practitioner of this ancient art, I have come to believe that each and every person I meet is a saint, and we are the communion of saints. Thanks, Fr. B..
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.