"But we have this treasure in earthen vessels to show that this all-surpassing power is from God..." - 2 Corinthians 4: 4-18
We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, but except on All Saints Day, it hovers over us unnoticed. It's like our appendix: we don't need it, so unless it acts up, we don't know it's there, or much care. That's too bad, because unlike our appendix, we need the saints more than we think. Not, as in the Middle Ages, to save us from Hell for a coin or heal our complex ills by the simple application of a left-behind bone. We have politicians and star-power pastors for that.
No, we don't need them for magic. We need them for lively conversation about the immense dignity of ordinary life, the incalculable value of everyday intentions to follow Jesus, and the inexplicable power of human haplessness to attract the mercies of God. We need them to confirm for us the secret of holiness behind halos and hymns—drudgery and routine; fleshly weakness and the shame of sin; the need for pardon and the struggle to be ready for grace; the groaning labor to reorder selfish affections towards selfless Love; the foolish choice to hope against hope; and the costly return, day after weary day, to the unlovely neighbor's side, with no one catching any of this stubborn, unremarkable pilgrimage on tape.
Faced with intractable fears and exhausting complexities, the world whips out the sensation, the quick fix, and the magic of celebrity. The church's ancient wisdom offers instead "mystic sweet communion with those whose race is won." We have the saints, and if we look carefully, we find that they are us—extraordinary signs that ordinary vulnerability, love and repentance, courage and perseverance still count. For a lot. For everything.
Happy All Saints Day, saints of God!
For all the saints who from their labors rest, who thee by faith before the world confessed, thy name O Jesus, be forever blessed. Alleluia!
Mary Luti is a long time seminary educator and pastor, author of Teresa of Avila’s Way and numerous articles, and founding member of The Daughters of Abraham, a national network of interfaith women’s book groups.