Mixed feelings on Saint Mary MacKillop

I’m not sure what to think about the canonisation of Mary MacKillop.

Despite the appropriation of various Catholic impulses by post-evangelicals – that herd of discontents which I might loosely be included among – I haven’t heard much taking up of devotion to the saints. I sympathise with the letters to the paper which dismiss the whole thing as rather medieval.

But then reading Henri Nouwen’s Genesee Diary, I at least realised that I had lightly dismissed something that meant a lot to spiritually mature people who I respect. Each saint’s day gave Nouwen an opportunity to reflect on the significance of that particular saint, their virtues and life story, and how he might draw lessons from it. Nothing wrong with that. I am acutely aware of the historical impoverishment of my Baptist upbringing, where there was no-one to admire, save those in the Bible (and perhaps the odd missionary). There was no-one to aspire after, no holy examples of a life well-lived. Because, it was insistently pointed out, we are all saints, those of us who are saved.

But this is true for me now too as an Anabaptist, much more so than in the contemporary Baptist tradition. Anabaptism expects us to be holy and set apart from the world, a peculiar people. If this caveat had been added to the idea of us being saints, maybe it all would have made more sense to me.

It is nice to think there might be saints interceding for us in heaven. The scriptural warrant for praying to them to do this seems slim to me. But praying to a saint – especially one with a picture – must be so much tangible than all this abstract Protestantism we are used to. ‘Pray to God, this being that you cannot picture, cannot see, and most of the time cannot hear.’

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4 thoughts on “Mixed feelings on Saint Mary MacKillop

  1. Is the warrant slim or non-existant?
    To permit a situation in which we are encouraged to believe that (not only might we pray to a dead brother or sister but also) we might ‘ask’ her or him to heal us is a serious addition to the word. Could we say that (from her grave) Mary MacKillop is unkind because she has decided not to heal (an unknown number of) others who have prayed to her?
    I admire and am encouraged by fellow Christians in my sphere who live their faith each day. Looking beyond them for inspiration (may be helpful but) might mean I’m not really trying to fathom or listen to those near to me.

    1. Good points Dad! I say slim because I once read an argument put forward for it, but I can not recall it right now.

      Do you know what I mean about there being no celebration of the heroes of faith among Baptists?

      I agree with the importance of listening to those near to us.

    2. PS: I think as much as anything, I was reflecting on the lack of history and tradition amongst Baptists, it seems a deficit.

      And then the second thing I was thinking about, I am increasingly ambivalent about every thing when I know there are intelligent, good people who have come to an opposite or different belief or practice. I can’t lightly dismiss Henri Nouwen.

  2. Hello David and Nathan. This reminds of the discussion I once had with a Benedictine monk about praying for the dead. He thought Protestant ecclesiology was seriously truncated because our notion of intercession focused so exclusively on the church militant rather than the church truimphant. That’s an interesting argument but I wasn’t convinced either then or now.

    On the matter of saints I prefer them alive rather than dead. I have no objection to focusing on the example of a historical figure as long as the choice of ‘heros’ isn’t condioned by narrow theological or political considerations, as it certainly has been in the Roman Catholic Church. I confess to a certain raising of the eyebrows that the list of saints contains so many male clerics.

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