Memorial of St. Rafael Arnaiz Baron at Mississippi Abbey
St. Rafael lived in the early 20th century. Due to intermittent health problems with diabetes he lived in and out of the monastery over a course of four years before dying at the age of 27. He is given to us today to admire. Admirable people give us an elevated or uplifted feeling. A person who is admirable in some respect inspires imitation in that respect. The features they exemplify tell us what virtues, good aims, right acts and good lives are. What is it that we admire, particularly about the saints?
Admiration for natural talents is distinguished from admiration for acquired excellence by its opposite: one may feel contempt or resentment toward another’s acquired excellence.
As you may have noticed, being a saint is not a natural talent. It is often perceived as acquired and thus resented by many, but it is not acquired. It is received. Then what is it that we admire?
K. Chesterton once said that a saint is a person who knows he or she is really a sinner. I mean, really knows! She knows two things: 1) what she did, when she did it, where she did it, who she did it with and who she did it to. 2) She knows how this distanced her from what matters most.
And then it gets complicated. As the gospel tells us, “The light came into the world, but the people preferred darkness because their works were evil.” We admire the saints for their receptivity because they accepted what they know they don’t deserve, they received what it is impossible to pay for. Yet, they must be receptive of God’s love, forgiveness, reconciliation and hope…to mention a few. They are the objects of mercy…and they know it…and they consent to it.
Most of all, they de-center on self and re-center on Christ. Thus, they show faith. When we ask “What is a person like who lives centered on Christ” we point to a saint –or a senior professed- and say, “Such a person is like that.” Holiness is not accomplished; it is allowed.