The Feast of All Saints

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Did you ever wish you had friends in high places? Someone to help you out in a bind? Perhaps a buddy to give you a boost? A special guide?

Stop wishing and know that you do! You have friends in the highest of positions, and these are people who will not turn their backs on you when the going gets tough. In fact, they are especially pleased to smile on you and lift you up when you are down. They are the saints, and theyíre planning a place among themselves for you.

Did you ever wonder what people in heaven do all day? Float on clouds? Wander around on gold pavement? Sing a cappella? Maybe. But many of us have the wrong impression if we think heaven is a perpetual resting home where we indulge our every desire and forget about other people.

The saints are at peace and are resting in the Lord, but itís not the kind of rest that is oblivious to the world! No, they are always aware of us and are prepared to receive our prayers in love.

Some people frown on the idea that we should pray to saints. Idolatry, they cry! But they have a misconception of the role of the saints. Saint Paul tells us that we are a communion of saints, and a saintly communion, united with the Lord, is not divided by death. Those who are called to God might leave our earthly eyes, but they are present, and they are family and family members do not ignore each other when one of their own asks for help.

Think of the saints as agents of God. No, they are not angelic messengers, but they are raising their voices in praise of the Lord and they do radiate His will. The Lord wants us to be saved. The saints, who are in perfect union with His will, want the same. It only makes sense that He would allow them to play a part in our salvation, even more than they did on earth, since now they can reflect His desires so purely.

I think of the saints with love and fondness because they have helped me through many rocky turns in life. Many people have had very obvious encounters with saints. They ask Saint Therese for roses, and the blooms appear. (Some Carmelites venerate her relics to right). They beg Saint Anthony to find a lost key, and, lo and behold, there it is! My experiences are usually more subtle, but just as real.

When I was a child, the saints seemed so far removed. In my six-year old hands I would clutch those little booklets where each female saint was depicted as far lovelier than the last. O, were they gorgeous! Flowing, glowing hair, rosy of cheek, gentle of expression, they far surpassed any movie star glory. And so many of them lost their heads. Virginal martyr saints -- I would think how brave and beautiful they were, and how far beyond my pitiful reach from a little bedroom in Baltimore.

And then when I got older the saints seemed mightier. Saint Michael wielded a sword (and, by the way, why were angels called saints when they started off with such an advantage over us poor feeble humans!). Saint Elizabeth was a monarch. And all the bishops were lined up with the power of the Church behind them. The saints were indomitable! No matter what obstacle was thrown at them, they emerged triumphant! Warrior saints!

Then came the intellectual saints. Saint Thomas, Saint Augustine, the big brains of God. My mother would say God is pure intellect and the more intellectual you are, the closer you are to God. What a relief it was to me to learn that Saint Thomas, after all his lifetime pursuit of the mind of God, declared his intellectual ruminations dross.

So, by now you might be saying: "sounds like she hasnít been helped much by the saints at all, except in a vague, impressionistic way." Not true! It seems that I, quizzically, find my way to certain saints. Or maybe, rather, particular saints take an interest in me. I kind of like the idea of being adopted by saints, sort of like having Godmothers and Godfathers in heaven.

The first saint to adopt me as her own special case was Saint Gertrude. This Benedictine nun taught me to pray. I read in her writings that one should pray with total confidence that the Lord wants, wholeheartedly, to help. Many people have received this lesson from Saint Therese, the Little Flower. Somehow, the medieval lily, Gertrude, a mystic who poured out her love for the Lord in writing, beckoned me into her circle of insight into His desire for my love and for my exaltation to Himself.

Another saint to reach into my heart and turn it upside down so that it could receive the Lord is Saint Mary Magdalen. She showed me the inexhaustible beauty of a grateful heart. So overwhelmed was she to be cured of the untoward influences that held her in their grip, that she was inspired to spread the news to us. She reminds so gently that all is grace (a beautiful message, also, of a wonderful French book, Diary of a Country Priest). When I think of her gratitude I am wrenched by a yearning to overcome my resistance to the sweetness of recognition of the gifts, in so many different guises, that the Lord sends.

Saint Therese is another heavenly tutor. Sheís the one who sends the little thoughts, such as: "pick up that piece of litter so someone else wonít have to do it," or, in the store, "rush to carry that bag so the arthritic lady wonít be burdened." Saint Therese is very persistent in sending these thoughts, especially when I am most cranky and most inclined to revert inward and indulge my recalcitrance. The Little Flower is a great nag, often so insistent, that you just have to give in to her and, reluctantly, do whatís right and beneficial.

More genteel reminders come from Saint Thomas More. He, in his wise and resigned way, tells me to be faithful even in processes and details, and to always remember Who comes first. I think of him and Saint Thomas Becket almost as twins, even though they were centuries apart on this earth. Both were accused of trifling about trivial matters that were unimportant to the essence of the faith. Both occupied positions of worldly stature. Both, ultimately, were required to make a painful choice between their ostensible friends and their God. You could think of them as the quintessential resisters of peer pressure.

Speaking of being nonconformist, the epitome here is Saint John the Baptist. He did not quake in the wind. He persisted, steadfast, and stood up for what is right, even though the worldly king tried to reduce his stature by depriving him of his head. Ironic, isnít it, that the one who most vocally declared himself not to be the head, even to be unworthy of unfastening His sandals, lost his bodily head, even while he proclaimed the Heavenly One? Saint John teaches me to declare the truth in public, to cast aside nervousness and worries about earthly consequences. O, that I would be a more obedient pupil!

And for a beautiful example of obedience, there is Saint Paul, a warrior saint. He adjusted my skewed vision of humility. He did not say: "well, I tried in my own inadequate, floundering way to attempt to do what the Lord wanted and I desperately hope He casts at least a little bit of favor my wayÖ" No, he said, "I fought the good fight." So, where I had humility misunderstood as a path of public self-deprecation and second-guessing of oneís efforts, he showed me, with the later assistance of Saint Vincent de Paul, that humility is being truthful about yourself before the Lord. Humility does not engage in self-deception or undue timidity or fabrication of images for public consumption.

Along the same lines is Mother Teresa. When asked if it bothered her to be called holy, she responded: No, it doesnít bother me, because if I am holy, I am only doing my duty. From her I learned, quite bluntly, that everyone is called to be a saint, with no exceptions. With her small comment she jolted me into the urgent truth that halfway is not enough. She revealed within herself that oft-ignored statement of the Lord that the lukewarm He would vomit out. As Joseph Scheidler, a leader in the pro-life movement, once said, itís a scary thought to be the kind of tepid, halfhearted person who would make the Lord sick to His stomach.

Then thereís Saint Simeon. Heís a grandfatherly saint. Heís the one who is a constant purveyor of the chant, "turn to heaven; heaven is better (than any worldly enticement)." All his life he awaited the coming of the Son who would free him from the tangles of sin. He did not rest until the Savior came to him. Grandfather Simeon, intercede for us and help us to pray, pray, pray, that the Lord will come and extricate us and take us completely to Himself!

Saint Francis de Sales is another of my favorite relatives. Heís the confessor uncle, the one who tells me the Lord is patient and kind and understands my foibles. Heís the one who most often reaches out a tender hand to soothe the despairing brow of a wretched sinner who is completely flummoxed by the Lordís relentless inclination to forgive even the most grievous failures of a repentant soul.

I could go on and on about the saints, just as so many of us love to chat about our families. But the main point to appreciate and adopt is that the saints are our family. We are destined to be eternally in their company. They wait for us. They hold out their hands to us. They send lifelines of reassurance and nudge us onto the path of holiness.

Ask them for help. They are delighted to provide it because they love you. Basking constantly in the light of the Lord, they radiate it to you. Be familiar with them. Approach them as family. They will relay directions to help you get home. And they will rejoice effusively with you when you arrive.


Here's an example of a down-home, familial approach to the saints, 
taken from the colorful and poignant Aunt Carmen's Book of Practical
Saints. We can all learn from Aunt Carmen that saints are just around the corner, in the nooks of our homes, and the cockles of our hearts. 

San Martin de Porres

Can I sing you, Brother Martin,
saint whose hands know work, like mine?
Would that we could sit together,
tell our cuentos, sip some wine.

Soon I'll close the church till morning.
Please guide me walking home alone.
Not a safe place for a woman.
Justice this old world postpones.

Speaking to our sweeping rhythms,
let us plot for those in need.
Can't you scare these stubborn faithful,
with your powers intercede?

Bread you gave to those in hunger,
kindness to the child alone,
held the trembling hand that suffered,
kindness from a man disowned.

Is it true when you were sweeping,
cats and dogs would come to chat,
telepathically you'd answer,
query disbelieving rats?

Brother Broom, with just a handshake,
you could cure a soul in pain.
Oh, I wish that you could touch me,
make these old joints fresh again.

Would that you had time to teach me
bilocation, such a trick,
not that I deserve the honor
and pleading seems impolitic.

You liked flying and liked gardens,
so practice aerial delights.
Come see roses, tulips, daisies.
Can't I whet your appetite?

Ay, that I had seen the shining,
from your oratorio,
in your habit, man so prayerful,
that your very self would glow.

How we come, the dark-skinned faithful,
comforted to see you here,
able to confide our sorrows
to a black man's willing ear.

Your corrido I must finish
for priests frown at such casual songs,
frowning is their special talent,
but still, protect them all night long.

Help me listen to my garden,
cease wrinkled judgments based on skin,
our colored sacks like bulbs or seeds
that hold our fragrant selves within.

(Pat Mora, Aunt Carmen's Book of Practical Saints)

St Augustine with St Monica, who prayed so long and shed so many tears for Augustine--
"a saint of so many tears and prayers!"

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