For all their faults, one thing that a saint is, in the classical sense of the word, is someone who takes the gospel seriously – even literally. Jesus says to the rich young man, “sell up and give all your possessions to the poor”, so St Francis takes him at his word and presents himself naked in the town square. Jesus says ‘love your enemies’, and so Etty Hillesum attempts to love the Nazi camp officers as human beings, with families and real emotions. This is the very essence of sainthood, and the very essence of radical discipleship. And whilst it seems unrealistic to expect the rest of the church to follow suit, what these saints do, argues [Phyllis] McGinley, is rebuke us in our moderation.
Referring to the radicality of the gospel McGinley notes that these are
soul-stirring slogans which most of us absent-mindedly attend to and admire as we admire lofty phrases. We even try to follow them in moderation. We agree that charity covers a multitude of sins and besides is deductible on the Income Tax. We comfort the afflicted in committee or subscribe to a fund for the relief of earthquake victims a hemisphere away. We take flowers to the hospital, speak with friendship to the folk next door, and give away our old clothes to the deprived.
But the saints, I repeat, are not moderate.
Ian Stackhouse, Primitive Piety, 119.