Going Deeper with Saints

Feb 14, 2023 9:00:00 AM / by Jessica Davis

"I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying."

-Nelson Mandela 

Though the calendars of many Christian traditions and denominations include commemorations of saints, for many Christians, the saints only come to mind in February and March, when there are saints' days that are widely accompanied by secular celebrations. And while these celebrations are fun, there is extraordinary potential that is being lost when we acknowledge only two Christian saints and choose not to focus on the most faith-filled aspects of their lives.

Before we dive too deeply into how and why I believe we should more actively commemorate the saints, it's important to get clear on what saints are. Saints are, simply, just people. Some were missionaries, some martyrs. Some were rulers or prophets, some were theologians, ministers and musicians, doctors, nurses, activists, and unemployed people. Mostly they were just regular folks. Many of them lived in poverty. Tons of them were women and others of marginalized gender. A shocking number of them were imprisoned. But they were all united in their faithfulness—some lifelong, some only for a time. The saints were and are complex people that our faith traditions chose as examples of what it means to live in holy obedience to the Word of God.

While many people know that Catholics around the world pray to saints and Protestants do not, fewer know that many Protestant traditions commemorate saints as well, and that most of the saints are commemorated specifically because of the things they did that radically challenged the status quo and flouted the rules of respectability.

Take, for example, the lives of Saints Valentine and Patrick. While the parades and greeting cards we so frequently see keep their memories alive, the ways in which their faith became legendary are often left out. For Saint Valentine (likely an amalgamation of two or three different church leaders living around the same time), it was using his powerful position to conduct illegal marriages and, thus, relieve young men from the burdens of compulsory military service. For Saint Patrick, it was being a runaway slave who returned to the site of his captivity and confronted the wealthy and powerful (the stories about shamrocks and snakes didn't emerge until over a thousand years later). In my own tradition, I am most influenced by the saints who were likely LGBTQIA+, like Perpetua and Felicitas, and Bernard of Clairvaux, and those who gave their lives for the liberation of people treated by society as "the least of these," like Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Bishop Oscar Romero. Theirs are stories that have great potential to influence our own faith, to give us courage to act boldly as we seek to turn our attention to the things that matter most to God.

Which saints does your faith tradition commemorate, if any? Are any of them surprising? Do any speak directly to your (or your congregation's) growing edges or places where you feel a tugging to do more? Which saints does your tradition not yet recognize that you believe they should, and what is the process to request they do so? As you plan for your work and worship in Christian community in the coming months, which saints' days might best speak to the communities you serve?

Topics: Valentines Day, saints

Jessica Davis

Written by Jessica Davis

Jessica Davis, MA is a Christian educator, pastoral counselor, church consultant, and freelance writer and speaker living in the Philadelphia area. Her ministry passions include: youth ministry, church music, and community visioning. She also provides education and advocacy re: diversity, equity, and inclusion and assisting churches in providing safe environments for children and youth. When not doing churchy things, she can usually be found knitting, volunteering with refugees and asylum-seekers, or working as a freelance makeup artist. You can connect with her work through Jessica Davis Church Consulting on Facebook.


Subscribe to Email Updates

Find us on social media

Recent Posts