There has been much celebration in the past few days as Pope Benedict XVI in St. Peter’s Square in Rome canonized Sister Mary MacKillop. Saint Mary MacKillop of the Cross is Australia’s first Roman Catholic Saint.  I’m thrilled for Australian Catholics as they have something to celebrate as members of a church that has received much bad press in recent years – especially because of paedophile priests and accusations of child sexual abuse and it’s cover-up by some church officials.  Interestingly, Sister Mary was excommunicated for a period five months in 1871 for exposing an Irish paedophile priest’s abuse of a child.

There is no doubt that Mary MacKillop had a genuine relationship with God and her faith was the springboard for a life of service to God and people in need.  The Australian Catholics website has this to say:“Mary’s deep interior union with God is the key to her greatness. She believed that God knew her intimately and loved her. She responded by giving all her love and her whole life to God. She felt sustained by God’s love, and the courage and strength she drew from God helped her to pursue Christ’s mission of bringing hope to the marginalized, particularly the young.”

I’m not a Roman Catholic, but I have no problem with a great saint of the past being honored by the church.  The Bible is full of great men and women of faith being honored – read Hebrews chapter 11 for a large list of them.  All four Gospel writers record the story of another Mary who anointed Jesus with oil just days before his death.  Jesus said of her, “wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her” (Matthew 26:13).

I do believe, however, that the Roman Catholic practice of sainthood in some respects goes too far and in other areas does not go far enough.  I will explain …

I believe it goes too far in that Catholics pray to the saints. It is the official position of the Roman Catholic Church that Catholics do not pray TO saints or Mary, but rather that Catholics can ask saints or Mary to pray FOR them. The official position of the Roman Catholic Church is that asking saints for their prayers is no different than asking someone here on earth to pray for you.  The challenge is that many Catholics do pray TO Saints and this practice is found nowhere in the Bible.  Effective Biblical prayer is always addressed to God the Father in the name (authority) of Jesus with the help of the Holy Spirit (See John 15:16; Romans 8:26-27).

Secondly, I believe the Roman Catholic practice of sainthood (canonization) does not go far enough in that it has strict qualifications of who is and is not a saint. In official Church procedures there are three steps to sainthood:

1. Venerable – a deceased person recognized as having lived heroic virtues.
2. Blessed – in addition to personal attributes of charity and heroic virtue, one miracle, acquired through the individual’s intercession, is required.
3. Saint – Canonization requires two miracles or Martyrdom.

While the Bible teaches strongly on the blessings of living a virtuous life – and death (martyrdom), nowhere does it specify these as qualities for sainthood. The Bible uses the word “saints” 69 times and it’s always plural.  It refers to the company of people – living and dead – who have faith in God and have lived lives of mercy, goodness and holiness in community with other believers.  In other words, there are millions of saints and YOU could well be one of them!

Praise God for Mary MacKillop.  Let us rejoice in the honor that has been bestowed on her because of her life of faith and good deeds.  But in the honoring of Mary MacKillop let us not think that sainthood is something that is not obtainable for us.  If Jesus is your Savior and you’re living a life that truly reflects your faith in practical ways, and you’re doing this in community with other believers, you’re a saint too!

We live in an age where political correctness has gone crazy and where everyone has to win or get a prize.  Having only one winner just wouldn’t be “fair”, and we might end up hurting people’s delicate feelings.  This was typified on a Disney sitcom I was watching a while ago with my kids where the one of the characters said, “There are no losers, only winners – and people who are not them!”

A classic example of this happened recently when 54-year-old Emma Czikai announced a lawsuit for $4.3 million against Simon Cowell.

Emma appeared on the top rating show “Britain’s Got Talent” last May and claims she was ridiculed, humiliated and degraded in front of 20 million viewers.  Cowell said she had a “horrible singing voice” and actor Amanda Holden added, “I just can’t see how she can’t see that she can’t sing.”  Emma “sang” the stunning song “You raise me up” and Cowell said, “It is a beautiful song when you’re not singing it!”

After having three attempts at the song Emma blamed the volume of the backing track and then blamed the microphone.

Was Emma Czikai right or wrong?  Can she sing?  Is she a victim of unkind comments or just an honest appraisal from people like Simon Cowell, Amanda Holden and Piers Morgan?  Before reading on, click on this Youtube link and form your own opinion:

Emma is blaming the judges for taking away her “self-respect and dignity in order to boost ratings and profit.”  She also attributes numerous painful medical complaints to her experience.  Emma was given a second chance on “Britain’s Got More Talent” some time later and performed marginally better.

There are truths that this incident should remind us of.  Firstly, Paul the apostle taught “do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment” (Romans 12:3).  In other words, learn to have a correct assessment of yourself, your gifts and talents.  What are you good at and what are you not good at?  If you can’t sing then don’t go on a national talent contest as a singer.

Secondly, you need people around you that can give honest input before you step out and embarrass yourself.  Proverbs 27:6 says “wounds from a friend can be trusted but an enemy multiplies kisses”.

And thirdly, realize that there is only ONE first prize.  The Bible teaches, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize” (1 Corinthians 9:24).   That’s good advice for a world that increasingly teaches there are no losers, only winners – and people who are not them!

Our family has really enjoyed watching the Olympic Games. It’s been inspiring to see the results of the amazing dedication and hard work of sportsmen and women from many nations of the world. That’s what I always find staggering – the work, sacrifice, self-control, self-denial & training that goes on day after day for months and years leading up to an event such as this. And then, in a matter of seconds or minutes the event is over and only one person – the best of the best – wins the ultimate prize: a Gold Medal.

The dedication of these men and women is to be admired and emulated by those of us who live under the name of Jesus Christ. Why is that people will go to great lengths to win a temporary prize but not lift a finger to win something eternal? The Apostle Paul uses the Olympic Games of his day as a challenge that is still worth taking on:

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)

Running to win; strict training; self-denial and sacrifice – not popular concepts by any means! The majority will never live like this but they will admire those who do!