Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Feast of All the Saints

"I want to be a saint!"

I was standing in an elevator with a bishop when I made this announcement almost 40 years ago.

"I think you would make a very good saint," the bishop responded, though he had never met me before this moment. Was he just being polite? How was he supposed to respond to this odd young woman, bedecked in her sweatshirt and patched blue jeans, making such a declaration to him?
I smile when I remember that woman, my younger self. She was so enthusiastic and full of longing to share God with the world.

It seemed, at the time, that being in college was like the opening of doors into a life where I could choose who I was to be and how I was going to live.

I wanted to be a saint because God's love and healing could then flow to others through me for all eternity. I saw that this was what the saints did for me - and I wanted to join that club. What could bring me greater joy?

Looking back on this moment with older eyes, it now seems so pretentious, so naive.

Does one become a saint just by wishing it, proclaiming it? Am I so special that generations of people over the centuries will know of me to ask for my prayers?

The answer to both questions: hardly.

At that young age, I knew nothing of the hardships of life. I had no idea how hard it could be to remain faithful when afflicted in body or mind. Even now, my understanding is limited in that my own afflictions have been relatively few.

I knew that I was in love with God but I had no way of knowing how many detours there would be on the path of staying in love. I was familiar with the detour of doubt but had no perspective to see how even my wish was part of a much more dangerous detour: ego (aka the wrong sort of pride).

While reading a delightful book on Russian Orthodox monasticism recently, I came upon a powerful reminder of what the path of Love really entails:

"...a monk must have no powerful desire for anything except God. There are no exceptions. It doesn't matter what that desire might be, whether for higher rank, or more knowledge, or better health, or for some material thing, or even to become an elder, or to obtain spiritual gifts. Everything will come of itself, if such be God's will." (from Everyday Saints and Other Stories by Archimandrite Tikhon Shevkunov).

While we may all be heaving a sigh of relief now that we are not Orthodox monks (!), we are not really "off the hook" all that much. Very few if any of us will be the sort of saint that is recognized by canonization, a formal declaration of the church. However, we are all summoned to be "everyday saints", no matter how ordinary or limited our lives may be.

To be an "everyday saint" is to take my own little corner of being and allow it to be filled with God. And to be "filled" with God means that there is not room for much else - certainly not things that I want for myself - only God and whatever unexpected gifts He brings.

I cannot even bring my desire for sainthood there. Only the desire for God.

Thus, even if it is my destiny to die in obscurity, a shriveled up old woman with dementia lying in a nursing home bed, remembered by no one, that is all right. As long as God fills that little corner of space that is me, my desire is fulfilled.

(Though I would be unaware of much, I can only hope that whoever had the unfortunate task of taking care of my body at that point might detect a little brightness there because of the One who dwelt within.)

It is easy to write these words - but a far different thing to live them. I did not know that when I was an enthusiastic young college student. But I know it now.

I am so far from that Way now that I might despair - if there were no grace and no community of saints to carry me with their prayers into the safety of their fold.

It is this that I celebrate today - the "communion of saints" - the eternal community of both the canonized and the everyday saints who dwell in the presence of God and want nothing more than for you and me to join them.

...I had a vision of a great multitude,
which no one could count,
from every nation, race, people, and tongue.
They stood before the throne and before the Lamb,
wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands.
They cried out in a loud voice:
“Salvation comes from our God, who is seated on the throne,
and from the Lamb.”
Then one of the elders spoke up and said to me, 
“Who are these wearing white robes, 
and where did they come from?”
I said to him,  “My lord, you are the one who knows.” 
He said to me, “These are the ones 
who have survived the time of great distress.

(Revelation 7:  9, 14)

            St. Francis of Assisi

      St. Clare of Assisi

    St. Catherine of Genoa

    St. Elizabeth of Hungary

st therese of the child jesus photo: St Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face StThereseofLisieux-1.jpg
   St. Therese of the Child Jesus

                 St. Teresa of Avila

     St. John of the Cross

   St. Mary Magdalene

   St. Maximilian Kolbe

  St. Kateri Tekakwitha

St. Charles Lwanga & companions

St. Paul Miki & companions (26 martyrs of Japan)

  Oscar Romero (not yet canonized)              

(These are only a few of the many, many saints who are part of the eternal community. Most will never be formally named by the church - but they still love us and pray for us.)