This week we celebrate All Saints Day. In many churches, the names of those who have died in the past year will be read aloud in Sunday worship. We’ll think more intentionally about the Communion of Saints, the great cloud of witnesses that have gone before us. Some of these are friends and family members who loved us, affirmed us and supported us as they lived alongside us.
There are others whom we never met but who influenced us through their beliefs, their commitment, and the legacy they left the Church and the world. Some of these are canonized saints but many others are not.
Recently I profiled saints for a lunch and learn group at my church. I selected four saints. Certainly there were many others I could have chosen, but the four I selected included men and women from different time periods. Each had a unique story and made an impact on the Church based on their own gifts and voice.
Each was human, just as human as any of us are. The most well-known of the four I profiled, St. Francis of Assisi, went from living what today might be thought of as an upper middle class life, doing all the “right” and acceptable things that go along with such a lifestyle, to living as a beggar, because he took seriously three passages from the Gospel: Go, sell your possessions and give the money to the poor, take nothing for your journey, and if any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves.
Brendan the Navigator struck out on a sea voyage while in his eighties, following a leading from God, though he had already lived a life devoted to the Church. Hildegard of Bingen, who lived in Germany in the 1100s, was a prophet, physician, author and composer. While there has been controversy in modern times within some denominations about women in the pulpit, she did several preaching tours at the encouragement of the leadership of the Church. Therese of Lisieux only lived 24 years, and did nothing the world would consider spectacular, but she was faithful, performing the ordinary tasks given to her with love and self-effacement.
Looking at each of these, and many others, I am reminded that each represents a life lived with the desire to love and serve God. None of these was focused on accolades from others, but on living faithfully where they were and with the gifts God had given them. They lived life to the full, serving with the capacity they had, something we are all capable of doing. Surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, I am challenged to live to my capacity. I hope you are as well.