Halloween (The eve of all holy ones) has become a popular secular holiday for children and adults alike. It’s fun. But today is more than left over candy, tummy aches, and hangovers. It’s All Saints Day. It’s a day to remember not only saints officially recognized by the church, but also those uncounted others whose lives have demonstrated for us what it means to love God and love our neighbor.
They were imperfect women and men who messed up, as we all do, yet persevered in leading others as they followed as best they could on the way of godly love.
When I think of the saints, they seem to drop into a few broad groups. There are the traditional saints of the early church well known to every Christian, even those who don’t put much store in saints: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John(s), Mary(s), and so on. Then there are saints most have heard of, at least second hand: Jude of last resort, Anthony of lost things, Nicholas of children. The Middle Ages gave us hundreds of saints more mythically magical than anything else. My own favorite is a certain Gerard who was said to be able to bi locate – be in two places at the same time. Very useful for pastors. Many may have been repurposed pagan demigods, while others were real people who led extraordinary lives of faith. it’s sometimes hard to know which was which.
Finally there are the men and women of history whose courage and conviction stand out as guiding lights for others to follow. Some are officially recognized by the church, canonized as it were. More are saints by popular acclamation, and some are known only to those who knew them personally. No church can make someone a saint. The best any church can do is publicly recognize them, adding them to a calendar of saints to be remembered. For me, saints not even need to be Christian. Gandhi and the Dalai Lama come to mind, with Gandhi as an example of how a saint’s passion for one form of justice can blind him or her to other forms of injustice he or she tolerates and commits. There are no pure and holy saints.
More important to me than well known historical figures are the saints who have been present in my life. My dad is one of them. I know of no person more generous than he toward his family and church. An old time conservative, he was also a spiritual guide, teacher of right ways to live, reluctant fighter for racial justice, and utterly confused by a world of technology beyond his ken. Another was Tony, professor of philosophy, law and religion, who forced others to ask hard questions about the meaning of godly love, led many into ordained ministry, and fought his own demons of alcohol and cigarettes. My friend Pat died a few days ago. Her funeral will be held on November 24. She did the hard work of becoming an ordained deacon in the Episcopal Church when she was well past retirement age for clergy. A political right winger tending toward conservative evangelicalism, she bent to the task of caring for the homeless, hungry, sick, and others in our community regardless of race, sex, or condition of life. A several times over cancer survivor, she gave hope and courage to others. When uncertain, she let godly love be her guide.
They are all saints, as are so many more. Take a few moments out of your day to recall those who have lead the way for you.