July 31st is the day many Christians remember St. Ignatius of Loyola. In doing so a few weeks ago, I was struck by the experience which led to his conversion. Among multiple factors used by God for his transformation, one was reading the saints while recuperating from a wound. He had asked for fiction books, but none were available. Someone gave him a book entitled Flowers of the Saints.
Apparently, up to that time he had rejected Christianity, at least in part, because it seemed so unattainable. Jesus was the Son of God. Who could ever be like him? The apostles were in a class by themselves. Who could ever think to emulate their lives?
But when he read the saints, he had a different experience. They were men and women just like him. He could not keep from asking himself, “Why should I not do what blessed Francis or blessed Dominic did?
The saints “humanized” the Gospel in a way that transformed him. He could no longer use the excuse that Jesus and his companions were “too high” to be attainable.
I had never thought about this benefit of reading the saints. But, like Ignatius, I was moved by the thought. Of course, there is some rather artificial hagiography. It seems we always want to “elevate” our heroes and make them out to be more than they were. I’ve seen this done in my own tradition with John and Charles Wesley.
But today, I want to focus on the experience of Ignatius, and simply say that the saints come to us in their humanity and ask, “Why not?” When we read their lives, we are without excuse.