Sunday, November 1, 2009

Feast of All Our Saints

Today, the Church recognizes all its saints - those with a capital S who have been canonized and all those with a small s who have earned their heavenly reward. What are saints? Some define a saint as a Christian who does ordinary things in an extraordinary way. Not every saint could be a Joan of Arc, the improbable teenaged girl who led armies of her fellow Frenchmen to victory over the English. Some were hidden from the world, like Therese of Lisieux who underwent a simultaneous martyrdom of mind, body and soul while living as a cloistered religious in a Carmel. Some were privileged to be visionaries, like St. Bernadette of Lourdes and St. Catherine Laboure.

Some of the saints certainly did not start life out on the right foot, spiritually speaking. St. Paul persecuted the early Christians. St. Augustine fathered a child out of wedlock and caused his mother, St. Monica, much agony and grief. St. Margaret of Cortona led a life of promiscuity that would have earned her a death by stoning in Biblical times. These saints especially give hope to those who have lived a life of sin that with God's grace, anything is possible.

Growing up with a grandmother who was born in Calabria, Italy, I was educated early in life on the lives of the saints. My grandmother had a shrine that would make some of our churches green with envy for her collection of fine Italian statuary that depicted so many images that we are familiar with; St. Anthony of Padua, holding the Christ child; St. Lucy holding a plate with two eyes resting on it; St. Therese, pressing her crucifix and a bouquet of roses to her heart, and countless other saints. These were my role models and I loved reading about their lives in stories which were modified for children. I thought, for example, that St. Therese had sent of shower of literal roses to earth after her death and that the sure way to know if a relative went to heaven was if roses fell from the sky. As an adult with children of my own, I know a bit better.

Few, if any of us, will be canonized after our deaths. While we are alive, we can do our best to imitate the saints in giving ourselves over completely to Christ. We can admire them but more importantly we can emulate them and realize that they, like us, were completely human and given to the same weaknesses we are. We can use their own examples to overcome our personal weaknesses so that we, too, may rejoice with them in heaven one day.

"Led on their way by this triumphant sign, the Hosts of God in conquering rank combine"!

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