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Is there a saint behind the mask of religion and pious discipleship?

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This is not about pointing fingers.

This is about being honest about our truly fallen humanity, and our truly fallen society.

Yet, this is also about the Abundant Mercy of Jesus Christ, and the grace of God which is truly powerful enough to make saints out of common rascals like those of us who 'practice' religion and 'practice' pious discipleship.

"Stephen, filled with grace and power, was working great wonders and signs among the people...Then they instigated some men to say, 'We have heard him speaking blasphemous words against Moses and God.' They stirred up the people, the elders, and the scribes, accosted him, seized him, and brought him before the Sanhedrin." Acts 6:8-15

Stephen is a canonized saint, and was certainly saintly in both his brave witness mentioned above, and his martyrdom in witnessing to the Truth of Jesus Christ. But we don't know what kind of man Stephen was before these Scriptural reports. Honest speculation could assume that he wasn't perfect. What then did Saint Stephen struggle with in his personal and spiritual life? I suppose it really doesn't matter, since Stephen was born of the flesh and susceptible to sin; yet, Stephen was reborn in the Spirit (and baptism) of Jesus Christ, and overcame his personal weakness in the grace of God and finished his race--down the narrow path--in the strong pace of faith.

Saints aren't born of the flesh (barring Mary, our Mother), rather, they are sculpted by the Spirit through much time consuming chiseling, and painstaking refinement.

"I declared my ways, and you answered me; teach me your statutes. Make me understand the way of your precepts, and I will meditate on your wondrous deeds." Psalm 119:23-24, 26-27, 29-30

Personal experience equates long periods of religion and piety with nothing gained but habit and custom. Don't get me wrong, good habits and faith structured customs are a safe haven for the spiritually weak of heart. But what truly puts a person on the fast(?)track to sainthood (sanctity) is neither hyper religiosity nor flamboyant, superfluous piety. What propels a person from the wide road of self-destruction to the narrow road of true discipleship is grace embraced.

But what inspires the embrace of grace?

"Jesus answered and said to them, 'This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.'” John 6:22-29

Holy books don't convert a wayward soul. The best they do is awaken the call of the Prodigal Father in the dormant conscience. Saintly people don't convert a wayward soul. The best they do is awaken the hardened heart to a better Way. Religion and piety don't convert a wayward soul either. The best they do is corral the lost, and keep them from being lost altogether, while providing a vital, and necessary, means for the convert to become a saint.

What inspires the embrace of grace is the wonder and beauty of the Merciful One upon His Cross, and the decrepit and disheveled state of the sinner, illuminated in the Light of God's Love, revealing the overwhelming embrace of the Prodigal Father and the absolute undeservedness of the rebellious and wayward Prodigal Son (Daughter).

Grace moves a soul in touch with reality. Reality is that we need religion, and God deserves our piety, but only Jesus, on His Cross, moves sinners to embrace the Cross-born Way of sanctity (holiness).