Today, as temperatures drop and October fades into November, your house might look like mine: bedecked in faux spider webs, harvest orange candles, and school-painted paper jack-o-lanterns. The kitchen permeates with scents of apple cider, popcorn and the unmistakable earthy smell of pumpkin innards. We’re gearing up to trick-or-treat, but around here, we don’t forget that Halloween started as All Hallows’ Eve, the night preceding a special day in the church. November first is the day set aside to celebrate All Saints, a long-held observation of those who’ve served Jesus faithfully.
|by Fra Angelico|
I love saints: I’m always adding to my saint book collection, learning about the saints who are living now or who have gone to heaven, and how and why the church holds them dear. All Saints’ Day is quite a feast in our church. White linens, meaningful hymns, and joy are expected and powerful in the service. We remember all kinds of saints, like those who are Saints with a capital "S," Christians who are recognized by the Church, known by many, painted on icons and featured in stained glass windows.
But these capital “S” folks aren’t the only ones invited to the All Saint’s party. We are too, and it’s an interesting perspective to realize that we live among saints, present and future (as we do future non-saints. As C.S. Lewis put it, each person we encounter is immortal and heading toward one of two eternal destinations. If that statement doesn't shake you into trying to woo others heavenward, I don't know what does.).
It’s always sort of jarring to me, though, that the celebration of the saints also includes me, a broken, sinful person who fumbles through life. Saints are supposed to be goody-two shoes, religious people who make right choices at every fork in the road. You know the kind. They may be interesting to read about, but I sometimes wonder if in day-to-day life, they got on everyone’s nerves because they, oh, say, never rolled their eyes, or got angry at the person ahead of them in the “15 items or less” line at the supermarket for having eighty cans of cat food.
Except that goody-two shoes isn’t in the definition of a saint. Not even close. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is written “To the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus” (1:1). That means, if you are a Christian, one whom God has called to be one of His people and who is “faithful in Christ Jesus,” you’re a saint. Pretty cool, huh? And we’re all knit together in Jesus’ body, here to help each other along our journeys of faith and direct each other’s gaze to stay fixed on Jesus.
Have you ever sought inspiration from the saints? Just as the light illumines stained glass windows, God shines through the lives of saints as examples for us. When we look to the saints for inspiration, comfort, or encouragement, they point us to God.
For instance, when I put my foot in my mouth (which if you know me, you know I do a lot) I have the example of Peter to go to. He made a lot of mistakes, but he always turned to Jesus and got on with life, a reminder to me to give my blunders to Jesus and keep serving Him.
|The Denial of St. Peter by Caravaggio|
When I get irritated at someone who pushes my buttons, I think of Thérèse of Lisieux, one of my favorite saints, who considered spending time with those who’d hurt or bothered her as acts of devotion to Jesus.
Brendan’s faith, proved by getting into a little boat to take the Gospel across the sea in obedience to God’s call, gives me courage on those days when I fear the unknown. Brothers Lawrence’s offering of every moment to “practice the presence of God” reminds me to serve God cheerfully in every chore.
|St. Brendan and the Whale, 15th C manuscript|
Saints have helped me get through other rough patches. As the young bride of an equally young seminary student, folks warned that parishioners may not take us seriously as spiritual leaders, young as we were. Sometimes, those folks were right, much to our frustration, but God directed my eyes to others who served Him as younger people. Charles Lwanga and his companions, who were either teenagers or in their early twenties when they were martyred in Uganda over a hundred years ago, gave me strength, and pause: no matter how old I grow, I will still be growing into their level of spiritual maturity.
I encourage you to check out a book on saints. One place to start could be 365 Saints by Woodeene Koenig-Bricker, a page-a-day-type book which is easy to go through. Naturally, these glimpses of saints just scratch the surfaces of their lives, but you may read about someone new whose story you’d like to explore further.
If you have a good book on saints, let me know! And may the Lord bless you as you walk with Him faithfully today, dear saints.
Previously appeared on Tea and a Good Book.