November 1st 2010 All Saints Day

November is a month most associated with a key Christian behaviour—Remembrance: and we start it off with All Saints Day  when the Church commemorates all saints, known and unknown. 
Saints !! -  God knows, the church has plenty of them. 

The graphic above is unusual as the saints don't have haloes , but can you identify them by their tools ? 
The Church is referred to as the ‘living stones’ or as ‘the body of Christ’. so we might expect to find more saints in the church than elsewhere but experience tells me that it is not always so. 

“Here is the church. Here is the steeple. Look inside and see all the people…....
But we all know that all the people inside the church are not all saints
and all the saints are not always found inside the church... 

Who was it said that the only disgrace about Christianity is that we are not all saints ?!

I have vivid memories of being taught about the saints at school. Just about every day was dedicated to one. I was taught to think of the saints as part of my extended family "doing things for me up there in heaven ", a source of inspiration for times when I needed help or to pray to for specific needs. 

I remember when younger taking great delight in the fact that St Jude was a designated Saint for desperate cases and lost causes.

St Anthony was always on call for lost items but when found they cost - a few pence in the box were duly paid.

There was something attractive as a child learning about  the lives of the saints, as they offered an invitation and gift for a spiritual journey ; a deep well of certain comfort to draw on in uncertain times.

The saints taught me about the way God worked in the world;

most importantly they opened my eyes to realise that my life was not just about me and my needs but that it was only worth something if I used my talents for the benefit of others.

Where did I go wrong ?!

I learnt that Saints were exceptional "others", people set apart with a mantle of holiness that could always be spotted in the paintings by a floating halo. 

I remember when we had to pick a Saint's name at confirmation and it dawned on us that our choice meant we had to actually live out some of these virtues and then for some of us came a relief of sorts when the church later struck off some of the saints from the official calendar.
Saints do miracles. 

All martyrs are saints.

Halos appear in Indian and Islamic art too and sometimes deities were surrounded by aureoles of flame.

In this Medieval manuscript on the left Muhammed leads Abrahamam, Moses and Jesus, all surrounded by flames of fire.

The Hindu Goddess Shiva
 Buddha and halo
So today it gives me great comfort  to remember that we are surrounded by the "great cloud of witnesses", 

all the saints, the disciples and Jesus, those magnificent men in their flying saucer machine haloes.
We don’t often make room for the honouring of ancestors or valuing what connection to the stories of our past might bring to us.  

For me, the month of November is an important time  for honouring the Communion of Saints because it means recognizing that the lives lived before mine matter now. 

It means remembering that there is ancient wisdom wrought from generations of engagement and struggle with life. 

It means I can call upon those who have confronted the great mystery of being and belief across the stretches of time.

Above Communion of Saints by Ira Thomas 
It allows me to make space within me to feel the presence of a sacred thread that ties me to everyone in my ancestral past. 

 It reminds me of this from St Therese of Lisieux
Every Second
What a treasure this life is!
Every second belongs to eternity.
It means I pay attention to all the wounds and unfulfilled longings, the hopes and dreams of everyone who came before me.

Learning their stories means I come to know my own more intimately.
Some of these stories I may know the details of, and some I may only experience in an intuitive way. but these memories live inside of me, waiting for me to give them room in my life.

Before the formal canonization process began in the fifteenth century, many saints were proclaimed by popular approval. 
This was a much faster process but unfortunately many of the saints so named were based on legends, pagan mythology, or other religions -- 

In 1969, the Church took a long look at all the saints on its calendar to see if there was historical evidence that that saint existed and lived a life of holiness. In taking that long look, the Church discovered that there was little proof that many "saints", ever lived. 
Christopher was one of the names that was determined to have a basis mostly in legend. Therefore St Christopher (and others) were dropped from the universal calendar. 

Sadly my own Saint's name, Philomena was on this list too but  there are a few videos I found on her : her story  and here a might litany of prayers 

Amazing !! As I was writing this post a serendipitous moment arrived in the post just as I was writing this post... 

In it was a wonderful card with a picture of St Philomena on it  from my friend Fran Rossi Szpylzyn (link to her blog There Will Be Bread from here)  :  strange eh ?!! 

Fran visited the Cathedral of Our Lady Los Angeles from where the photo on the left is taken . In the nave are wonderful woven tapestries of The Communion of Saints- and yes,  Philomena is in there somewhere , and I thought I was demoted !!

Blessings and  Many thanks to you Fran. Peace be With You !

Perhaps it is not by chance that  All Saints Day coincides with the moments of the"great turning of the year" that begins on the first of November.

In the Northern hemisphere the world enters the dark half of the year. 

The ancient Celts  believed this time was a thin space, where heaven and earth whispered to one another across a luminous veil and those who walked before us are especially accessible in these late autumn days.
As the earth prepares to enter winter, she sheds what she no longer needs and moves inward.

We live in a world illuminated by artificial light and so we often forget the wisdom to be gained from being in darkness. 
I love the summer and I resist the call of winter , this time for  fallowness,  a time to shed what I no longer need and move inward ,  and to take time to contemplate what mortality means. 

The darkness of this season invites me to release all of my certainties about how God works in the world, and sink into the deep unknowing.  
The apophatic way is the way of darkness in Christian spirituality and has a deep and rich tradition among the mystics, including Meister Eckhart and St John of the Cross. 

When I enter the wisdom of the night I discover that God is so much larger than what I can imagine and that the call to a mature spirituality has more to do with surrendering my attachments than in gaining enlightenment.
I live in a world where certainties about God lead so often to the impulse behind violent acts and the violation of people's dignity.
 Perhaps if we all recognized that the way of unknowing was the necessary complement to the way of images and knowing, we would act with more humility and be less willing to speak for God. 

Our ancestors have passed over into the Great Night and they call to us across the threshold to release our tight grip on what we think we know.

Each of us has concentric rings to our stories -- 
my own  story as a Catholic is embedded in the story of my family, 
which is nestled in the story of my parents' families, and so on back through generations.

The month of November is a time of anamnesis, 
a time to remember and give thanks , 

to pay homage to the spiral cords of our being that bind us all in time.

When I think about the saints I remind myself that life is not all about me.

Most saints are reluctant to admit it. 

Now 92, Nelson Mandela ,a global icon, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his struggle against the white-minority apartheid government in South Africa, says in his book Conversations with Myself he doesn’t want to be remembered as a larger-than-life saint. 
“One issue that deeply worried me in prison was the false image I unwittingly projected to the outside world; of being regarded as a saint."

So what can I learn from the lives of all the saints ? - 
that I have a responsibility beyond myself ;-

that my individual world is too small just to live it for my own selfish needs ;- 

that I am called to participate in God's world not as a bystander but to extend hospitality beyond my small existence.  

that the saints are alive  and close to us here and now !

Few of us will be eligible to be saints
but we can all share a tiny part of ourselves in the service of  all the Saints and ultimately with Christ Himself. 

May God bless us all this month as we begin to prepare for Advent once again.

May all the Saints help us to remember and prepare for the great moment of the Incarnation, 

a precious moment amid the chaos of daily life, 

connecting our past with the present so that all people may have a future.

 A few factoids on Saints and Haloes 
Pope John Paul II canonized an extraordinary number of saints - 464 in all.  In contrast, all other Popes of the 20th century canonized only 98 combined.
 Find out about what makes a saint and how the  process of canonisation works  from here
More about the origin and development of haloes in art  from here and another  here

1 comment:

Fran said...

I am so glad you got the card in time for this!!! I really was thinking of you as I was at the Cathedral and then when I found the St. Philomena card, I knew I had to send it to you.

What a beautiful post - as always, as always.

You are a living saint dear Phil. God bless you always!