The Witness of the Saints

When I lived in London I helped to run the music at St Luke’s church in West Holloway. That church was also home to the year round offices and operations of the Greenbelt festival. St Luke is the patron saint of artists, and the arts were important in that church’s sense of identity through that connection with Greenbelt. It was a good combination, although St Luke is also the patron saint of doctors, students and butchers and not the patron saint of musicians. (St Cecilia is.)

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That idea of patron saints is one that has some connections with the pre-Christian pagan pantheon in which there were individual gods for different areas of life. It’s an enchanting idea, isn’t it, the thought that there are supernatural beings watching over specific aspects of our existence? St Anthony can help you find something you’ve lost; St Christopher will take care of you when you’re travelling…

Yet, as I’ve spent time with Luke this week I find that he, like a great artist, is elusive. He, himself, is not the point. He isn’t afraid of being seen or heard. It’s not a matter of being shy and retiring, under-confident or overly-deferent. It’s just that what he really wants to do is draw our attention to something else.

Or rather, someone else.

Like so many other aspects of our Christian lives, the veneration of saints risks becoming and end in itself. Yet, at its best, it is something that points us further, that draws our eyes in and through the object of our gaze to the truth that lies behind it. In Luke’s case, and indeed in the case of every real saint, that truth is Jesus Christ.

Celebrating the lives and witness of the most remarkable Christians who have ever lived is a good thing. But we do them and ourselves a disservice if we don’t allow them to point us further. Neither Luke, nor Cecilia, nor our own patron Nicholas would encourage us to become disciples of themselves. They would, rather, tell us to look to Jesus, the author and perfecter of their faith and ours.

May God bless you all,