I’ve been thinking a lot about saints. All Saints Day (November 1) coincided with one of my classes studying the lives of medieval female saints. These women were officially recognized by the Roman Catholic Church for their heroic displays of compassion and reports of miracles they performed.
It’s also the case that this past Sunday churches around the world honored the saints who have gone before us. Remembered especially were those who died in the past year. At these worship services, bells tolled as each name was read aloud. It was a time to honor the lives of those who passed away, to remember them in death, and to hope for more for all of us who mourn their passing.
I come from a wing of Christianity that does not share in the ongoing Roman Catholic tradition of granting official saintly status to persons performing miracles or living particularly virtuous lives. Nevertheless, in remembering those who’ve gone before us, we still use the word saint.
If it is the case that all of us are children of God, then it seems that all of us are born with huge potential for sainthood. Most of us spend our days far from that ideal; yet it’s true that especially in times of great need, many of us are recipients of grace given by saints in our midst. I know that since my own cancer diagnosis, life has been full of encounters with saints.
Take, for instance, the friend who started walking with me the fall of 2008 when I was struggling with a broken back. With the exception of a week here and a week there, she has walked with me, every week, for the past four years. This friend also has a daughter who learned about saints at her parochial school. On a test about saints, when asked to name one she wrote, “My Mother,” and got the answer wrong.
Even though this friend doesn’t fit the official definition of a saint, I think the teacher may have passed up a valuable teaching moment. In covering the facts of sainthood, I imagine the teacher talked of saints as those whose extravagant love, service, healing, and sacrifice were officially recognized by the church. But a truth-beyond-the-facts presented itself in the “My Mother” answer, where a child acknowledged she believes her mother embodies those same virtues. Why not acknowledge—with the daughter—that there are saints among us?
Since my diagnosis, my walking friend and many, many others have shown themselves to be saints through their love, care, and concern. So in this season of saints, in addition to honoring and remembering all the saints who’ve gone before us, I also want to honor the saints among us:
to the saints who brought us flowers during the dark days of the illness;
to the saints who delivered homemade meals to our doorsteps when we couldn’t make meals for ourselves;
to the saints who sent cards with words of comfort;
to the saints who make time in the hospital, the clinic, the radiation center, the chemo rooms less frightening;
to the saints who shoveled our driveway when our life was in shambles;
to the saints who created a quilt that keeps us warm every night;
to the saints to who sent us blueberries in December, jewelry in February, CDs in the springtime;
to the saints who came to visit from far away to dull the sharp edges of despair;
to the saints who continue this journey with us.
Know that in this season of remembering saints, I’m ringing a bell for each one of you.