Thursday, November 1, 2007

All Saints

Today is the Solemnity of All Saints--the day when we remember all those, publicly acknowledged or known only to a handful, who have completed their journey into the fullness of life in Christ.

We celebrate, and rightly, their fidelity to Christ, but when their stories are honestly told, these men and women serve also as living signs of Christ's unwavering fidelity to us. None of us needs much convincing that God is with us when times are good, but it's a different story when times are bad. It can be heartening, then, to recognize that God stood by them in every painful circumstance: political and religious persecution (the apostles, the Carmelite Nuns of Compi├Ęgne, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross [Edith Stein]), material poverty(St. Francis, Blessed Juan Diego, St. Benedict Joseph Labre), desolation of spirit (St. John of the Cross, St. Therese of Lisieux in her last months of life, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta), political disaster (St. Edward the Confessor, St. Bernard, St. Louis, King of France), the death of a beloved spouse (St. Elizabeth of Hungary), misunderstanding, mistreatment, betrayal either by their religious communities (St. Francis, St. Bernadette, St. Alphonsus Ligouri) or by family (St. Clare and her younger sister) exile, whether voluntary (St. Francis Xavier and countless other missionaries) or involuntary (St. Athanasius, St. John Chrysostom), threats of sexual abuse (St. Charles Lwanga, St. Maria Goretti). Whatever the cross that befell them, Christ was with them always, as he promised in the gospel--even when they felt entirely abandoned, as he did on the cross.

This list, a tiny fragment of the roll of canonized saints, includes only those men and women whose names are known to history and honored publicly by the Church. As we read the papers or watch the news, with their endless chronicle of human suffering, we could find the faces of many more whose names we will never know--believers of every time and place who hung in there when there was every reason to abandon love of God and neighbor for the sake of self-preservation, believers with whom God hung in there when there was no reason even to imagine there was a God.

On our own bad days, we might remember and draw strength from these our older "brothers and sisters," as the preface of today's Mass calls them. St. Bernard of Clairvaux said that they are eagerly awaiting our coming to join them and adding their own prayers to ours that we will see them one day. They never forget us, he said, even when we give them not a thought. Everyone can use older brothers and sisters like that when the going gets tough. Today is a good day to thank them for being there.

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