The curriculum vitae of Blessed Edmund Rice is sufficiently well known to us and calls for little comment. For us the question today is not ‘What do we remember about him?’ but ‘Why do we remember him at all?’ or, better still, ‘How do we remember him?’ Do we remember him on his Feast Day as a hero or as a saint? I suggest that it is the latter.
This is not to deny that, from one point of view, Edmund was a hero; for saints are often described as people of heroic virtue and, as the Book of Revelation (21:8) states, there are no cowards in the Kingdom. But there is a difference, indeed several differences, between heroes whose deeds quite rightly invite our admiration and saints whose lives call for our imitation.
In the first place, heroes are at the centre of their own stories; but saints, even the greatest among them, are just bit players in God’s story.
Secondly, it is interesting to note that the word ‘hero’ does not appear in the whole of the New Testament. However, the word ‘saint’ occurs no fewer than 64 times—and always in the plural. ‘Hero’ usually points to individual achievement: ‘saint’ always points to a community.
Thirdly, heroism may be displayed in what John of Gaunt in Shakespeare’s Richard II calls one ‘rash, fierce blaze of riot’: sanctity, however, is for the long haul and requires perseverance over a lifetime.
Despite personal failings that are part of the human condition, the saint stands out, is out-standing, for his or her constant fidelity in and to a community.
Edmund Rice’s community was, in the first instance, the community of Christian faith into which he was born. More narrowly, it was the community that he founded and in which he was faithful until death—the Congregations of Christian and Presentation Brothers.
His fidelity was expressed in three vowed commitments made at baptism, marriage, and religious profession.
Like Edmund we are bit players in a story, a love story no less, which is ultimately about God. Like Edmund we are called to be faithful in a community of disciples. Like Edmund, in a word, we are called to be saints. This is how we remember him today; and this is what his Feast Day celebration should remind us of.
[Br Brian Grenier, with acknowledgement to Samuel Wells, Improvisation: The Drama of Christian Ethics].