I mentioned a couple of days ago that my reaction after a year of looking at the new people added to the Episcopal Church calendar was, by and large, "bleah." The complete list of recognized people, along with collects of the day (no last names and all), and recommended readings has been compiled into a book called Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints (hereafter HWHM).
press release from Church Publishing, announcing that "a formal, quantitative [online] survey will be available for users of the new resource to record their impressions of this expanded collection of commemorations. The survey... is designed to be used on a daily or frequent basis. Survey participants can comment on every collect and chosen scripture passage for each commemoration in the entire 800-page publication."
You can bet I will be a frequent contributor. And if you're as obsessed and peculiar as I am, I hope you will contribute too.
I had some initial reactions to the new proposed calendar a year ago before I had a chance to explore it. My worry was that we were "claiming people for our calendar to make us feel better about ourselves." I don't think that was a bad first call. But there are some other things that have become disturbing to me over the year.
1) It seems that "saint" has come to mean "people who did good things" Take, for example, William W. Mayo, Charles Menninger and their sons: Pioneers in Medicine. No doubt worthy of remembrance. I don't argue against that. But what does it actually mean to be a saint? Does it have something to do with the church at all? I'm not saying that every saint has to be doing churchy things. Just that many of these feasts seem based primarily on their historical importance or contribution rather than their witness of faith.
2) A number of those remembered were just doing what was normal for the time in which they lived One which stood out for me in this regard was the Pioneers of the Episcopal Anglican Church of Brazil. "In 1890, Lucien Lee Kinsolving and James Watson Morris were sent as Episcopal missionaries to Brazil. The following year, they were joined by three other American missionaries. [They] are now celebrated as the founders of the Episcopal Anglican Church of Brazil." Well, whoopididoo. Were they loving? Did they show any special grace? Given the history of missionary work, I need something a little more than this.
3) A number of those remembered would hate to be considered a saint Poor John Calvin. I have trouble recognizing as a saint those who would object to the notion of sainthood. It seems to offend the very people we want to honor.
4) It's so damn trendy This is just my personal feeling, and it's a tough call. But one of the things I appreciated about the commemoration of Jan Hus is that time shows his extraordinary faith in much sharper relief. There's nothing trendy about it. I worry that some of those included are simply there due to trends in faith: multiculturalism, inclusion of women and minorities--not that there's anything wrong with any of those things. It just seems to be done indiscriminately. Were you decent to Indians? You're in!
The upshot is, I don't think we gave enough thought to what we mean when we say someone is a saint. I'm not sure I can define it. I can tell you, though, that what we have now just doesn't sit right with me.
I welcome your thoughts and feedback and will continue to ponder this question myself.