The Feast of All Saints
There is a rather poignant scene in Robert Bolt’s play, A Man for All Seasons, in which Richard Rich, an ambitious climber and suitor of Sir Thomas More’s daughter, approaches More and asks him about securing a political appointment.
“Be a teacher.” More advises the young man.
“If I was, who would know?” Rich replies.
“You. Your pupils. Your friends. God. Not a bad public, that.”
Like the rich young man in the Gospels, this Rich goes off sad, knowing that even the best teachers--while they live in the hearts of their students--will be ultimately resigned, with notable exception--to obscurity. In our history of St Ignatius, for every Mike Pennock--who rightly earned worldwide acclaim as an educator--there are dozens, perhaps scores, of women and men whose impact on their students has been profound but whose names are nonetheless lost to history. Such is the fate of even the greatest teachers.
Such is the fate of some of our greatest Christians.
There are currently somewhere in the neighborhood of 1.2 billion people who call the Catholic Church home. That number increases dramatically if we tally all who have been a part of the Church since the 3,000 who were baptized after Peter’s preaching on Pentecost. That said, estimates of those women and men officially enrolled in the canon of saints stand at maybe 11,000 people. That’s a pretty exclusive club.
One of the many things I truly love about being Catholic is our veneration of the saints. Ignatius of Loyola would find inspiration in the lives of St. Francis of Assisi and St. Dominic. Through them, he had his own life changed. I have found hope and inspiration in the lives of grumpy St. Jerome, loving St. Therese, undoubtedly frazzled St. Joseph, thoughtful St. Thomas Aquinas, courageous Mother Mary…and I could go on. They were and are people who led lives not unlike our own. They were and are people who, often in fits and starts, loved Jesus and let His grace transform them. Because God is our Father, they are also our family.
And death can’t separate us from the love of our family.
But who are the saints? St. Paul addressed many of his letters to the “holy ones” or “saints” in the cities to which he ministered. Thus “saint” and “baptized Christian” were, in his mind, synonymous. (Echoes of this sound as our Church reminds us that we are all called to lives of holiness--to sainthood--as a result of our baptisms.) As time went on this designation was reserved to those who had died in a state of grace and had lived lives of “heroic virtue,” which were manifested in lives lived with great sanctity and/or were offered up in martyrdom.
But perhaps more simply, “A saint is a witness, a man or woman emulated Jesus and followed him,” one who “makes you remember Jesus Christ because he or she journeyed along the path of life as a Christian” (Pope Francis, General Audience, 7 April 2021).
If this is the case, then grandmas who taught us to pray, mothers and fathers who raised us in the Faith and selflessly gave their lives to us, friends who challenged us to live for something more than this life can be among the “great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue, [who] stood before the throne and before the Lamb” (Rev. 7:9) which St. John saw and which is recounted in the liturgy of All Saints Day. Because while the Church has, from its earliest days, publicly venerated those whose lives serve as an inspiration and has relied on their intercession before God, there have been many more whose sanctity is unknown but to their family, friends, and God.
Pope Francis calls such people--living and dead-- “everyday saints, hidden saints, or as I like to say, the ‘saints next door,’ those who share their lives with us, who work with us and live a life of holiness” (Gen. Aud., 7 April 2021). It is those “saints next door” who have passed on in relative obscurity whom we celebrate on this Feast of All Saints. Like all the “Saints Triumphant” in Heaven, they remind us that we are never alone: not in our joys, not in our darkest moments. Rather, we are part of a family that transcends time and space, and as a family, we are there for each other, even after death.
We can all find family members and friends whose witness to the love of Christ has influenced us. As a St Ignatius family, we can point to people who have had a similar effect. We can’t be absolutely sure anyone but the formally canonized are in Heaven (we should pray for our beloved dead), but we can call on those who have passed and ask for their prayers. We ask the people around us who are still alive to do so, after all. I have spent the last 14+ years asking Kevin Healey ’07 to intercede for his “little” sisters and brother in the Brennan family. I ask Mike Pennock ’64 to intercede on behalf of his alma mater as we try to navigate through times eerily reminiscent of those he walked as a young teacher here. And I call on Jim Skerl ’74 to ask the Lord to help our community be the men and women for and with others we aspire to be.
So on this Feast of All Saints, I ask: Kevin of Fairview Park, Michael of Brooklyn, James of University Heights; and ALL holy men and women…
Pray for us.