Are saints born or made? Let me pass on a story about one of mine.
Father Elias Chacour is a Palestinian Christian, a native of Galilee, and an Arab citizen of Israel. He is a priest and retired archbishop in the Greek Catholic Church, an eastern rite that is politically associated with Rome.
He was not born any of these things—as he likes to say, he was not born a Christian, he was born a baby. Neither was he born a citizen of Israel, as that nation did not exist yet. Most Palestinians were forced out of Israel at its establishment in 1948; many others were internally displaced— Chacour’s family was among the latter. He is not allowed to return to his home village of Bar-am, save for funerals, but he does still live in Galilee. Some of you have heard me speak of him.
Father Chacour has lived his life as an advocate for peace in Israel, and justice for Palestine, while at the same time consistently condemning violence and terrorism—whether it be state terrorism, or individual acts of violence. Because of this, he has gained some notoriety; because of his notoriety, people from around the world tend to show up on his doorstep.
One of these was David Penman, the Anglican Archbishop of Melbourne, Australia, who simply knocked on Father Chacour’s door one day. A fast friendship resulted—cut short, alas, by Penman’s fatal heart attack two years after their first meeting. Another year passed, and Father Chacour received an invitation from Penman’s widow—he writes of this in a book I’ve been reading (the one I purchased in May so that he could sign it):
“She wanted to be ordained as a priest to honour his memory, and desired that it should be I who delivered the sermon at the ordination. This was a real problem for me, since as a Catholic priest, and Greek Catholic at that (which means more conservative than most), I could not but think it a grave error to preach at the ordination of a woman. I prayed about it a great deal, and spent a long time trying to work out what I should do. Finally, I went and I preached. I spoke of the role of Mary in Jesus’ life, and I ended with a question: ‘We accept that Christ was given to us by means of a woman; why then should we not accept that a woman may give us the Eucharist? I shall be grateful to anyone who can give me the answer! Amen.’” (Faith Beyond Despair: Building Hope in the Holy Land, pp. 96-7.)
One of Father Chacour’s saintly graces is that, for all his strength of will in building schools, libraries and Christian community; for all his strong advocacy for justice and true peace, he could also allow prayer and Christian partnership bring him to a new understanding of an old point of view. Saints may be made by God, but they are also formed by life within the Body. Despite rumors to the contrary, saints are not perfect, but they may well be perfected. And it is no error that when the New Testaments speaks of saints, it is speaking not just of the more visible champions of the church, but of all those within the Body; it is speaking of us.