Well, ya wanna get a reaction out of me, put saintly as the daily prompt. My first response was not fit for the public airwaves. In my experience, any intense reaction is fertile ground for self reflection and so, turning my curiosity on myself, I found some stuff, mostly not new, and there nonetheless.
First off, I work with a number of clients who have been profoundly harmed, having been sexually, physically, and emotionally abused by clergy. I also have clients who are clergy who do nothing of the sort and bring light to the dark places of the world. Like all occupations, there are individuals who do a fine job and others who are quite unsuited to their work. As a retired physician with an interest in sports medicine, and as a former gymnast myself, I am horrified and deeply saddened by the behavior of individuals such as Larry Nassar who systematically abused hundreds of young athletes under his care.
As is so prominent in the news these days, there are individuals in all areas of life who abuse power, and prey on those they can intimidate. Sometimes for sexual gratification, oftentimes, simply to exert control. Naming and telling of the stories is one way to break the spell of shame and silence that so often surrounds abuse. Empowering everyone to be aware of themselves, and what is okay and what is not okay with them is an essential part of doing things differently. That this information may be deeply upsetting and disruptive is true, and in my opinion, its necessary that we learn to tolerate this and the complexity of a problem for which a simplistic solution does not exist.
A major culprit in the perpetuation of this abuse I find to be the institutions involved. Schools, religious institutions, sports governing bodies, corporations, the military. So often their interest is in perpetuation of the institution rather than care for the individuals who comprise them. This has been extremely well documented within the Catholic church, where known pedophile priests were shunted from parish to parish, able to abuse more children with impunity. Violence and threats of public humiliation and eternal damnation are powerful ways to silence any potential complaints.
Coming back to saintly. Who or what is a saint? The term derives from the latin sanctus, meaning holy. A holy person. From my limited research, saints are part of the Christian religion, and not so much in other religions, although when I was traveling in India, there were a great many “holy men”, but not identified as saints. To become a Catholic saint, there is a set of criteria that must be met, and then approval from the pope is required. So again, holiness is subject to institutional approval, meeting the institution’s requirements for saintliness.
Same old power dynamic. Something outside of oneself determines if one is adequate. To be a saint, make the olympic team, get one’s film produced, get into grad school, get the job promotion. Of course, some evaluation is necessary, and I certainly don’t want someone who is unskilled performing surgery on me. I also don’t want someone who is so indoctrinated in the “party line” that he or she fails to use their own judgement and intuition in my care. Similarly, I want (actually I now insist upon) the right to trust myself and my own knowledge and intuition to do what is right for myself. I will seek and consider outside opinions, and ultimately I will decide what is right for me, which may or may not be what “they” would choose.
So it seems that I am not a saint, and am unlikely to be one. As a non-Catholic, that’s a given. And if saintly requires living by an institution’s standards in deference to my own, I’ll pass. That said, I do endeavor to live in a way that values kindness, compassion and empathy. Treating myself with respect and compassion so that I may do the same for all I meet. I am not a part of an organized religion, but I do have a strong spiritual life. The following are two of my guiding statements. From the Dalai Lama: “My religion is kindness” and from the Bible: “Love thy neighbor as thyself”.
I’m not encouraging saintliness, I’m inviting all humans to kindness and love of self and neighbor. Lets start now!