Some people like to watch cooking shows on TV. I don’t. I’m not really that adventurous when it comes to cooking new things. I cook what I like to eat. And I eat what I like to cook. Not a whole lot of wiggle room for untested recipes and new exotic flavors, much less cooking shows that call for unfamiliar ingredients unavailable where I live, and that feature overly-enthusiastic and chirpy celebrity chefs who like to brag about how easy it is to create these amazing culinary masterpieces in under 20 minutes while they carry on endlessly about peripheral cultural details and wine pairings and contemporary trends in music and art. Maybe some people enjoy watching these shows because they enjoy the cheerful mindless banter despite knowing nothing that comes from their kitchen will ever look like or taste like the final product in the limited edition cookbook that’s only available by calling the toll-free number at the bottom of your TV screen. Hurry! Operators are standing by!
It’s always tempting to think that whatever you’re attempting to create will look just as beautiful and taste just as appetizing as theirs. Amateurs like to believe instant success is attainable on the first try. Meanwhile seasoned practitioners of the culinary arts will always caution against setting the bar high early. Those who make it to the top, who end up producing TV shows and publishing books and opening restaurants, will not be shy about sharing their struggles and hard-learned lessons. And as with most worthwhile endeavors, success seldom comes without long tedious hours of dedication, hard work, occasional failure, surges of enthusiasm and resolve, speed bumps of disappointment and discouragement, and a wide assortment of self-doubt, delusions, loss of nerve, courage, perseverance, hopelessness, eager anticipation, and willing surrender. It’s an uphill slog in bad shoes and stormy weather most days, battling the rushing current littered with obstacles, gaining little appreciation or recognition for all your trouble. And those who keep their focus and persevere do attain the prize eventually. But surely not everyone succeeds. We just never hear from those who don’t.
On this feast of All Saints, we turn our attention to the great multitude of holy women and men through the ages whom no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue, who stand before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands, who cry out in a loud voice, “Salvation comes from our God, who is seated on the throne, and from the Lamb.” Some of these saints are perennial favorites, names we know from childhood, whose faces and stories are immortalized in stained glass and oils on canvas. Their heroic escapades have been told and retold through the ages, setting them apart from us mere mortals, although we know they were once just like us. What we behold most days is the finished product, tried and tested, glorious and polished. We hold the saints in great esteem and honor. They might seem to belong to this exclusive club that we will never be part of. Now that they stand as models of authentic Christian living, we will not hesitate to invoke their help in our struggle. But their success gently invites us to follow in their footsteps.
Like those amazing cooking shows that remind me of things I will never be capable of, I forget that the level of holiness that we all so admire in the great heroes and giants of our faith is not far beyond our reach. Now even if we can gather together all the ingredients needed to create some spectacular dish, some of us will still need help, a lot of help, to combine them in just the right way. And that’s where expert talent and skill come into play. But we already have the necessary qualities to become saints. And yes, we will still need to provide willing cooperation and active participation in God’s plan. But God himself is the Master Chef. He alone knows the right formula to combine all the ingredients that make being a saint possible. We are the clay in the potter’s hands, the raw ingredients in the Master Chef’s grand design. The first thing we will need to do is be available to God, and to not interfere in the divine process.
Many of the saints, publicly declared and undeclared, started out like us. It’s true, some of them clearly had unique advantages. The apostles walked with Jesus. Some of that holiness must have rubbed off. But then there’s Judas. It’s clear he was not available to God; he interfered in the divine process. Then the many holy women and men of the first few centuries lived in times of great fear and persecution, and many suffered martyrdom in the prime of their lives. For these it might appear like all it took was one heroic act of courage and surrender. But we can be sure they had to weigh their options, determine in real-world practical terms whether or not to be available to God, whether or not to cooperate with the Master Chef and participate in God’s grand design. And although saints have suffered martyrdom everywhere in the world in every generation, the majority of us will have probably dodged that bullet.
A good number of saints officially recognized in the church were popes, bishops, priests, deacons, and religious women and men. So that’s clearly not the path for most. But there were among them many married couples, parents, widows and widowers, humble farmers, laborers, teachers, soldiers, even household servants, young and old, rich and poor, nobles and ordinary citizens. But in God’s kitchen, that’s just the basic difference between an appetizer, an entrée, or a dessert. We can’t all be exactly the same kind of saint. But we are nonetheless called to holiness, each in our own unique way. The first step is to be available to God, and to not interfere in the divine process.
“See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called children of God. Yet so we are. … Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him.” In baptism and confirmation, God bestowed on us the tremendous gift of his Holy Spirit. But God did not step away so we could go it all alone from there. Rather, God continues to provide us with grace and blessing, inviting us to recognize the greatness to which we have been called. God even sends us mentors and companions to assist us on the journey. And every once in a while we arrive at a moment of clarity. We recognize how we have not been available, and how we have gotten in the way of the Master Chef.
Among the photos on the window sills here and on our mantels and bookshelves at home we might point to heroic virtue and holiness in some very ordinary people whose paths crossed ours. They may be saints only to us. But their success invites us to imitate their example. It is God the Master Chef who accomplishes most of the work. We just need to be available, and not interfere or be an obstacle in the divine kitchen.
Rolo B Castillo © 2019