Thursday, November 1, 2012

Of Saints and Friends: Thoughts on 'All Saints Day'

 ...I believe in the Holy Spirit, 
    the holy catholic Church, 
    the communion of saints...
      (from the "Apostle's Creed")

Lord, how I want to be in that number
Oh when the saints go marching in
(from the lyrics to "When The Saints Go Marching In")

...a friend may well be reckoned the masterpiece of nature
                                                        (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

Hello my dear reader.

I was thinking of writing a short entry in regards to All Saints Day when I came to the following questions: what is a saint? Who do we call a saint? What makes a person a saint? These questions (while important) came to a halt when the following thought crossed my mind: if I want to know what a saint is, I should look at a good friend.

St. Teresa of Avila
Saints are first of all human beings like you, like me, like everyone else. Now it is true, in Christianity we have many ways to call someone a saint. The late Anglican theologian John Macquarrie (in his book "Principles of Christian Theology") explains that when we talk of saints in the Church there are two principal ways. In the New Testament it was applied to any Christians. They formed in each city the community of the Holy Spirit  and so they were thought of as the "saints at Jerusalem " or wherever it might be. But in the later and more common usage, the expression stands for those whom the Church recognizes as having signally manifested the Holy Spirit and as having been conformed to Christ...the central characteristic held up before us is self-giving love. (page 358)

In the Roman Catholic Church there is the act of canonization where the Church can canonizes (or beatify) men and women that become "models of holiness".  Lumen Gentium, the "Dogmatic Constitution of the Church" and one of the most important documents of the Second Vatican Council, states:

"It is not only through their example that we cherish the memory of those in heaven; rather we seek, by devotion to them, to exercise that bond of fraternal charity which unites and strengthens the whole Church in the Spirit (cf. Eph 4:1-6). Just as Christian charity brings us closer to Christ on our earthly journey, so does the communion of saints join the People of God to Christ, the fountainhead of all grace and life, on their eternal journey" (LG 50).

[the meeting of] St. Clare and St. Francis

From our historical ties to the Roman Catholic Church, the Episcopal Church still celebrates the lives of many of the same saints recognized before the Protestant Reformation. After the Reformation, with the separation of the Church of England from Rome, and now in the present, we celebrate the lives of men and women that we believe personify the example of love and faith that Christians should celebrate and share with the world in the spirit of compassion and wisdom.

There is one important factor about saints that brings me to something very important in our lives: friends. Friends (including all saints and of course all human beings) are not perfect. As Macquarrie correctly points out: The extraordinary variety of those whom the Church calls "saints" is sufficient warning against any rigidly narrow idea of the Church, which must rather be comprehensive enough to contain and encourage withing itself the manifold potentiality of existence. Saints (like friends) come from all sort of different places and backgrounds, and they truly have a knack for surprising us and defying expectations.

Harriet Beecher Stowe
In a world were sometimes it appears that the individual is what matters and where it seems that we just need to look after ourselves, saints and friends are there to remind us that this is not the case.

If we are lucky to have good friends, then we will see that they (like us) have faults and are willing to put up with our own faults. Friends are willing to make sacrifices for us without being asked, and sometimes when we are in dire need. They listen to us when we are sad and they celebrate with us when we are happy. And if we are real lucky, some of our friends will change the world with their love and sacrifice...that is, if they have not done so already.

It is "All Saints Days" and in this day when the Church remembers those who were capable of the sort of love that would not make them hesitate to put their own lives on the line for the sake of others, let us celebrate the memory of the friends (past, present, and future) in our own lives. To the saints that we meet every day and to my friends: thank you and happy "All Saints Day".

Mario one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends...

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