Casper's aunt was visiting. It was always a pain, because she always asked him the same things, one of which was, "What do you want to be when you're grown up, Casper?"  Since Casper didn't want to grow up at all, the question was meaningless.  But up it came, year after year, and Casper was always forced to mumble some unsatisfactory reply.  But this year, in the month of June there were five Saints whose feasts were to be celebrated in Church, and Casper had his answer ready.

"What do you want to be when you grow up, Casper?" asked his aunt, in that bright tone of voice she used when talking to children.

Casper beamed at her, and adopted his most innocent expression. "A saint," he said.

There was a moment's shocked hush, then Casper's father burst out laughing.  But his aunt's face lost its brightness and her mouth turned down at the corners.  It was clear she couldn't think of anything to say. Casper was well pleased, and went out to play.

That night as he lay sleeping, Casper was suddenly woken by a bright light shining on his face.  He struggled up in bed. Standing in front of him and filling his room was an angel.  "You called me," the angel said to Casper.

Casper gulped.  "I didn't!"

The angel nodded.  "You said you wanted to be a saint. Here I am, to help you."

"But I didn't mean it," protested Casper.

"Too late," said the angel. "You spoke the words.  They can't be unspoken." He sat himself comfortably on Casper's bed . "Where shall we start?  Shall I tell you about saints in the past?"

"Look," said Casper hurriedly, feeling this was all getting out of hand far too quickly . "I'm not the saintly type . I'm not good.  You should see me at school,  I'm the worst in the class. The teachers hate me."

"Good," said the angel, nodding . "St. Augustine was like you.  A really wild one, he was. We almost despaired of him.  But his Mum kept on praying for him, and he eventually saw the light.  There was no stopping him then.  If it wasn't for St. Augustine, your church wouldn't be here today."

"That's where you're wrong," said Casper with some satisfaction. "I happen to know who brought Christianity to this area, and it wasn't St. Augustine.  It was St. Fursey."

"Who?" The angel wrinkled his brow.  "Oh, him! Yes, he was a very early missionary.  He came from Ireland to and founded a monastery within the walls of the local Roman fort..  But what about Chad?  You'd have liked him.  He came to Lichfield in 672 a few years after Fursey, but he was a bishop. He stayed for only 4 years, and died from the plague, and built a Church here, which later became our Cathedral for our Diocese of Lichfield."

Casper made a face. He wasn't at all sure he would have liked someone who died from a horrible disease . He changed the subject.  "Why are all the saints men?" he asked.

"They're not," replied the angel.  "St. Julian of Norwich was a woman who had sixteen visions when she was thirty, and spent the next twenty years living in a tiny cell, meditating on those visions.  You can still read what she discovered."

Casper sighed . "You see?  I don't want to do anything like that! I want life to be fun and exciting.  Saints are so boring.  They don't do anything exciting."

"But they do," countered the angel, flapping his wings a little to ease the stiffness in them. There wasn't room to spread them in Casper's bedroom.  "How about St. George, patron saint of England?  He was a knight in shining armour, who killed a terrible fire-breathing dragon to save the people.  St. Alban was a Roman Solider in Britain who sheltered a priest from the Romans, and ended up having his head cut off.  And Joan of Arc?  She was burned at the stake because she stood up for her beliefs.  That exciting enough for you? Or how about St. Stylites?  He was a little odd, I must admit.  He spent his life living on top of a pole."

Casper wasn't entirely happy about the direction of the conversation.  Fighting dragons was OK, but he had no wish to be burned at the stake, or have his head chopped off.  And living on top of a pole?  "Anyway," he said, "I'm only ordinary, so I'll never be a saint."

Then the angel beamed.  "That's really what I've come to tell you.  When the Christian Church first started, all Christians were known as 'saints'.  That was the name for them.  If you just grow up being yourself and hanging onto to Jesus with all your might, you'll be a saint too.  That's the secret of all the saints, the ones you know like John the Baptist, Peter and Paul, and all those many saints you've never heard of.  Why, if you look around your church congregation, you'll probably find quite a number of saints.  But they won't know they're saints, and most other people won't recognise it either."

"You mean," asked Casper carefully, "I can just be myself, not specially good or anything, and as long as I keep holding onto God for all I'm worth, I could become a saint and no-one need ever know?  And I won't necessarily die some horrible death?, like Peter and Paul.  Or have to do something really stupid like that Style bloke?"

The angel nodded.

"Oh well," said Casper.  "That's all right then."  And he turned over and went back to sleep.

 

Rev. Canon Stuart Ansell

 

Saint? Casper

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