You don’t have to perform superhuman feats to embrace saintly qualities, as Richard Chidlaw explains
Saints have always interested me, - not as holy people to pray to for help, but as practical examples of people living their faith, applying Jesus's teaching to their particular circumstances.
When we try to find out more about saints and read their stories, we often find that they behaved in a superhuman way, far beyond our ability and, rather than being encouraged by this, we shrug our shoulders and dismiss them. “I'm no saint,” the average church-goer may say, “I try to do what I can, but I cannot copy the pattern of a saint's life.”
One of the difficulties is that it is very possible that the saint in question would not have been able to either! People who wrote saints' lives needed to be able to create a magnificent example for us all to follow. Usually, there were all sorts of underlying pressures on the writer to produce a powerful story. Often, they had no verifiable sources and had to make up incidents to illustrate their biography.
So, what of St Jordan of Bristol, whose very name has almost been forgotten?
David Higgins has published an article in this year's Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society drawing Jordan out of obscurity and presenting him as an important, but forgotten evangelist in the Bristol region. There was a chapel to Jordan in the middle of what is now College Green at the bottom of Park Street. He was a young companion of St Augustine who was sent by Pope Gregory to convert the English in 597. Bede tells the story of Augustine meeting the British (Welsh) bishops at St Augustine's Oak, and failing to gain their support in converting the heathen English. The idea that this meeting took place on College Green is not without difficulties, but the continuing presence of Jordan in Bristol and the dedication of two churches: St Augustine the Less (now demolished, but near Queen Victoria's statue) and Bristol Cathedral (then St Augustine's Abbey) suggest early support for the location.
If you regard yourself in any way as someone who has a faith, then you too are a saint.
Jordan is identified as a “confessor” in a mediaeval book of prayers which states that he was a companion of Augustine in preaching to the heathen English. It has been argued that the “Harrowing of Hell” sculpture in Bristol Cathedral's South Transept originally covered the grave of Jordan in his chapel.
Does it matter that people such as Jordan have been forgotten, that his pastoral care and evangelising of the area have just been taken for granted, that he, like so many others have perished as though they had never been? I think it shows us something important about real saints, rather than those fictional ones of the dragon-slaying type.
The work they did and the example they lived were to honour Jesus and, by their witness, to bring others to believe also. Oddly, I find them more believable just because there are no mighty miracle stories told of them. They are people who lived and witnessed to the Faith in them, just like we do. The most important aspect of their witness is that it is acknowledged in Heaven, though many early Christians in this area will have had cause to be grateful to Jordan for his life, leaving his home and family in Italy, having to learn English and working in an area of political conflict between Briton and Saxon. Heaven remembers: we forget.
It shows us the importance of all the things we do for God's kingdom. They do not have to be things which demand public acclaim. They do not have to be remembered. Indeed, some of the most important things we do we may forget, but others will value and perhaps remind us of in years to come.
In conclusion, let me remind you that “saints” which means “holy people” is applied in the New Testament to all the believers and that if you regard yourself in any way as someone who has a faith, then you too are a saint. RC