“A man is a saint not by what he does and achieves”

“A man is a saint not by what he does and achieves, but by his acceptance of failure. A saint is one who conforms to Christ, and what Jesus is about was not shown in his successes, his cures and miracles and brilliant parables and preaching, but in his failure, his defeat on the cross when he died deserted by his followers with all his life’s work in ruins.”

Fr Herbert McCabe, O.P.

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6 Responses to “A man is a saint not by what he does and achieves”

  1. Chris E.W. Green says:

    I love McCabe, but this seems to me at best a half-truth. I think I’d rather say that the cross is not so much a failure as an unexpected and unexpectable triumph over all accounts of failing and success. Jesus is not so much defeated on the cross as he is doing the defeating, “trampling down death by death,” and exposing the lie that is all human understanding of what makes victory and defeat. Yes, he was deserted by his followers, and his life’s work—by their estimation—was in ruins. But their deserting him did not sanctify him. (Wouldn’t it be nearer the truth to say that his sanctity reached so wide that even the deserters could not outrun his intercession for them? That that inescapable intercession is his sanctify? Just a thought.)

    Be that as it may, I’d argue that he did not “accept failure.” Instead, he once-for-all rejected all merely human descriptions of success and failure, trusting only, simply in the Father’s goodness. Of course, by doing that, he was able to enter fully into our failings and to take on the experience of abandonment for us, bearing its full weight. But he experienced on the cross not his own failure, but ours.

    To cut to the chase, then, I’d want to tweak this statement so that it read something like this: “A man is a saint not by what he does and achieves, nor by what he fails to do; a man is a saint by his acceptance of the kind of life that is wholly unconcerned for success and failure, given instead in pure love of God and neighbor.”


  2. Chris E.W. Green says:

    And I suspect it’s just as mistaken, or at least misleading, to say that “what Jesus is about” isn’t shown by what he does in his life leading up to the cross. How can that be true? When Jesus turns the water to (the best) wine, the gospel says he is radiating his glory—the very same glory that he had from the Father the beginning. When Jesus raises the dead and opens the blind eyes, is he not showing that God is a God of life and not death, of light and not darkness? And when he teaches, is he not showing us that God is a talkative God and that we humans are meant to be in that (eternal) conversation? It seems to me that nothing that happens in Jesus’ life is less important than what happens on the cross. Jesus’ life, because of the Spirit, simply cannot be segmented into discrete bits and then separately weighted with importance. His person and his work are inseparable. Or so it seems to me! 🙂


  3. Chris E.W. Green says:

    To be clear: I mean, nothing that happens in Jesus’ life is more or less important than what happens on the cross. His life both as a whole and in each of its parts is equally salvific.


    • urwill says:

      I agree with you Chris E.W. Green wholeheartedly. Jesus’ whole life showed us a new way to win; being obedient to the Father, irrespective of the worlds success and failure structures. Those don’t matter, trusting the Father does. To be like Christ we as God’s people trust Jesus with our lives like he did the Father with his. This is the true way to win. And is the way of a saint.

      However I wouldn’t say it makes us a saint as we can’t jump in and out of sainthood (depending on whether we trust or not at any given moment), Christ is our righteousness. He makes us saints. I guess what I’m trying to say is that a man is a saint by his acceptance of Christ who was “wholly unconcerned for success and failure, given instead in pure love of God and neighbor”. And the way of a saint is to walk like Christ did.

      Hope that makes sense.


  4. Frederick says:

    On the contrary true Saint-hood is demonstrated only by what one demonstates in life, which in turn is determined by what he or she has “achieved” or more correctly become fully responsible for in his or her body-mind-complex and thus transcended.
    This reference gives a unique insight into the life of a remarkable 19th century Russian Saint
    This reference describes the process of psycho-physical growth intrinsic to the structures of the human body-mind-complex. Sainthood and indeed true human maturity only begins when one has completed the necessary work of the first three stages and has thus entered stably into the Spiritualized fourth stage of life.


  5. Bill Dandreano says:

    “He trampled down death BY DEATH.” I agree….unexpected surprise. What we call failure is now greatly redefined by the cross…that is why the poor in spirit and broken are called blessed.


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