By Br Bede Mullens, OP | ‘What does it profit me that Christ was born of the Virgin, if he is not born in my flesh also?’
In Baptism, St Paul teaches us, we become a new creation. The old man and all his ways are put off, a new man is put on. Christian life is a matter of allowing ourselves to undergo that transformation and doing what we can to further it, remembering our Baptism and who we have become. The saints are those who most wholeheartedly embrace the gift and heed the demand.
So much is true, but looks at things from a rather one-sided perspective. For there is not just one subject involved in this transformation: it is not just I that am transformed, but there is one who brings it about and receives me by it. This new creation was in existence before any one of us became a part of it, and it claims us for itself. In Baptism, the Church takes on a new member and the Body of Christ grows. We can also say with St Paul, that we baptised make up the sufferings that are still lacking in the Body of Christ, or that the Body of Christ has yet to grow up to its full stature: it is in the pangs of birth to bring forth each one of us as a saint.
It is not enough that the Word should be united to one human nature. Jesus Christ is the fullness of God’s self-disclosure; he has in him the fullness of divinity. But his divine leaven must be diffused throughout humanity; the mustard seed must flower forth into a wide tree that climbs to heaven. The saints are this leavened humanity, the hundredfold crop grown from the single grain of wheat. They are the purpose of Christ’s life among us.
Some have, in this connection, described the saints as ‘other Christs’. The term is a little imprecise. There is only one Christ, one Lord just as there is one Baptism. We are all made one in Him. We might better say that the saints are more like the Four Gospels. The Gospels all provide a distinctive witness to the one Jesus; in their multiplicity, they remind us that the God-man could not be adequately captured by any one account. And even with Four Gospels in existence, the words of St John hold true: if all the things were written about Jesus that could be, I don’t suppose the whole world could hold all the books.
So it is with the saints. Each one of them is an icon of the face of Christ, each a book in which something is revealed to us of him that we had not glimpsed elsewhere. And the world in the end does not hold them: new wine bursts an old skin. A heavenly city is their home. Pray with them that it will also be ours.
Image: The Inside of the Dome in the Padova Baptistery (Wikimedia Commons)