The Light of a Saint

How would you define what it means to be a saint? I suppose there are lots of definitions, as there are many elements of sainthood and certainly a wide variety of saints.

Here’s one of my favorites. It’s from a relatively obscure book, Life and Holiness, by Thomas Merton.

The saint, then, seeks not his own glory but the glory of God. And in order that God may be glorified in all things, the saint wishes himself to be nothing but a pure instrument of the divine will. He wants himself to be simply a window through which God’s mercy shines on the world. And for this he strives to be holy. He strives to practice virtue heroically, not in order to be known as a virtuous and holy man, but in order that the goodness of God may never be obscured by any selfish act of his.

I once knew a special man, Bill Beuby, who was this kind of person. I used Thomas Merton’s definition of a saint to describe Bill when I spoke at his funeral.

A couple of years later, I attended a men’s retreat outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico. One afternoon during the retreat, the men were driven up a mountain to spend part of an afternoon in solitude in the wilderness. After being dropped off, we hiked up to a beautiful meadow, and then each of us tried to find our own spot for quiet and reflection.

I found what I thought would be a good location and settled in for some quiet time with our Lord, expecting that some insights would come to me during my time there. Instead, my mind was distracted and overactive, bouncing from one thought to another, with no sense of landing anywhere helpful.

When the retreat leader whistled for us to go back down the mountain for the ride back to the retreat center, I was disappointed and frustrated. But then, as I passed by a grove of huge trees, I had a beautiful surprise.

I saw an intense shaft of sunlight pouring down between a group of trees, brilliantly illuminating the iridescent bright green moss on top of a rock that was perhaps 3 feet in diameter and a foot or two in height. I knew that the scene created by the sunlight on the rock was intended for me.

Recalling Merton’s definition of a saint, I stood on the rock for several minutes, bathing myself in the shaft of light coming from the sun. I really didn’t need to say anything or have a conscious thought. I was physically and mentally quiet and very still, just letting the light of the sun represent God’s light and in my heart wanting it to always pass through me without creating any obstruction on my part.

Since that experience, I can’t say that my living out the concept of being a window through which God’s light passes has been a consistent reality. I’ve had some good moments, but I have let the power of the image of light slip away far more often than I have let it inspire me.

My hope is that Merton’s definition of a saint will strike a chord within you, my reader, and that writing about it will help us strive to live out the definition more frequently.