When I was a boy–I’d say about fifteen years–the Baptist pastor who baptized me when I was eight years old took a trip to Central Florida with his wife and children. They visited an orange grove while they were on vacation, and when he came back to Pensacola, one Sunday his sermon–his homily–was about the young man whose job it was to guide people through the grove where he worked. This man, said my pastor, was soft spoken and diligent with his work, and at one point he sat down to talk a bit more about the orange grove, at which time he produced a pocket knife and a fine specimen of the fruit which made his living. As he spoke, he peeled that orange, and I remember the delight in my pastor’s voice as he recounted how he had been so amazed that not one piece of the peel broke away from the orange, but that the young man succeeded in peeling it in its entirety with one continual cut of his sharp knife. I remember thinking, ‘Now that is really impressive. He must have been highly skilled to do something like that–it must have taken him a long time to learn it.’ But was I right?
Thirty years later I found myself living in Central Florida. I wasn’t working on an orange grove, but as a history re-enactor. One particular day I found myself with a very sharp knife and an orange in hand, and I remembered the story of the grove worker. I wondered if I could do the same thing—if indeed it would take me many tries. I began to cut. Before too long, half of my orange had been peeled, and a crowd of visitors to our museum had gathered around me to watch. I continued to cut, and in a few minutes I had a rope made of orange peel, and a peeled orange. I felt proud, or contented may be a better word, but that day I also learned a lesson which will stay with me for the rest of my life.
When we hear of miracle workers—whether they be orange grove guides or world famous saints—we do ourselves the worst possible evil when we say ‘I will never be like that—I could never live like that or accomplish that.’ At fifteen I did not believe that I could ever peel an orange with one cut of a knife. So much did I not believe that I could do this that I never even tried, and left that miracle to the unknown young man whom I had never met, but only heard about. But as my God saw fit, one day I was inspired to copy what I had heard, and in copying what I heard that Sunday so long before—in doing the word instead of hearing it only—I easily accomplished a feat that at one time in my life I believed was impossible. This is the way with sainthood.
Saints are not special people, they are determined people, they are people inspired, they are people, perhaps above all, who believe in themselves because their God has first believed in them, and because of the belief given to them through grace—because of their faith—they accomplish things which to others seem miraculous. And what is it, ultimately, that the saint accomplishes? The saint understands that it is not the knife and it is not the orange that matters, it is the end result of the knife cutting into the orange and peeling it. The prayers, the Bible study, the giving, the suffering, the works, the travailing with others to pull them out of pits of sin—all of these are the means; the knife cutting the orange peel away from the fruit. But the means are never what matters to the saint, it is the end result which is all important—the end result of the love of God being shed abroad in the hearts of all who long for His Presence in their lives, most of whom have no idea that the love of Jesus, and only that love, is what they long for, cry for, crave, and even die for.