Episode 37: For All the Saints
I attended the funeral of a dear friend last week.
I was sitting at my dinner table laughing, telling stories of this man and his quirks. Then minutes later I get a call telling me he’s non-responsive in his office – and another an hour later telling me he died.
He was a giant of a figure. His passion for justice and commitment as a smart ally who fought hard and fair for the rights of others was legend. His knowledge of the Church’s deep history and his willingness to tell you the stories of the church’s forgotten heroes was almost encyclopedic. His laughs emanated from his toes and went through his whole body; and his cold stare in righteous indignation at affronts or injustices was chillingly effective.
He traveled the globe trying to right wrongs. He worked long hours in an effort to fulfill his calling in ministry to a church he loved and for a gospel he believed in. He will be missed, but long remembered. His impact will be felt for some time. As I said at his memorial service, if we seem to shake a bit on our foundations today, its because one of our pillars has been removed.
I’m reminded of that hymn, the opening lines of which read: “For all the saints, who from their labors rest; who, thee, by faith before the world confessed thy name, O Jesus: be forever blest. Alleluia! Alleluia!”
With each passing generation saints emerge. Their toil, though necessary for the good works of faith to be accomplished and often offered through long days and short nights – goes largely unnoticed. Their faith inspires us all to believe more about ourselves and the world around us than we thought possible. Love shines through them in thought, word, and deed.
John was but one of the many whom I have known through my years of service to the Church. Men and women of all ages, tongues, and races have inspired me to better things. So many of them have left this earthly sphere to join the cloud of witnesses who have gone before them – but even the brief mention of their names and the recitation of their deeds still inspire us all to commit to a better way of being.
We who linger memorialize them less by our flattering words of their accomplishments than by true imitation of the life they lived in action. Rehearsing in speech the exploits of the saints is one thing; walking in their footsteps to create a better world is another.
Pause today to call to mind the saints who inspired you to be who you are. Remember the things they did that make you walk differently in the world. Speak their names, and tell another one story about what you saw in them that stirred your heart and soul to action and contemplation.
I was in Jordan this past March when John, a large hulk of a man whose football career left him with a permanent limp and no small amount of pain – sat on a rock for the better part of an hour smiling and playing with children of Syrian refugees who spoke not a word of English. They delighted in his antics. His own joy in creating laughter for them in what were, by all measures, a bleak and dangerous world – is a picture of saintly work I will not soon forget.
This is for all the saints. We need them, as through this world we walk in daily toil and service to a gospel that changes lives. We serve the common good who walk the way of Jesus – and we rely heavily on the examples set by others. Gentle listener, may your walk be lit and your toil sustained by the thoughts, words, and deeds of the saints who came before you as we all together journey our way Into the Mystic.