Stories Seldom Heard
We Celebrate All Saints
Welcome to Stories Seldom Heard (SSH)
and a special welcome to the members of St Mary of the Mountain
Parish, Virginia City, Nevada and St. Joseph of the Holy Family,
Manhattan, New York.
Halloween (the Eve of All the
Holy Ones) and All Saints Day are here. This morning I was invited
to one of our neighbor’s homes to see their Day of the Dead altar.
The altar was filled with fruits, candies, vegetables, flowers,
candles, statues and, of course, photographs of their deceased loved
ones. Tomorrow night, November 2nd, relatives and friends will
gather to tell stories and to remember their loved ones who have
died. What an ancient, comforting and profound custom.
These two feasts, All Saints Day
and the Day of the Dead, are big celebrations. As children, many of
us celebrated Halloween by dressing up as our favorite saints,
heroes or heroines. As we have gotten older the feast of All Saints
Day also reminds us of the original meaning and use of the word
"saint." In the early church saints were not a small select group
Paul, in his Letter to the
Hebrews speaks of "the cloud of witnesses" (Heb 10:1). In the
Apostles Creed we speak of "the communion of saints" which refers to
all of us: those who have died and those who are still alive. It is
a great throng of intergenerational witnesses. It involves people
of every race, nation and century. Some of the saints are/were
prophets, others visionaries, contemplatives, soldiers and pacifists
to name a few. Some of them are individually named in scripture
such as Abraham and Sarah, Jacob and Rachel, John the Baptist, Mary
Magdalene, Paul, Lydia and many more. In fact, in the early church
Paul addresses his letters "to the saints" in Ephesus, and "to all
the saints" in Philippi." The Bible is filled with numerous stories
of saints. They are not perfect people, but they, like us, strive
to be friends of God.
The feast of All Saints, however,
is more than just a celebration of our lives. It is more accurately
a celebration of God's creativity and grace: a celebration of what
God has done for us. God has invited each of us, the obscure and
timid, as well as the acknowledged and remembered ones, to be part
of this feast of all saints. Contemplatives and activists, those who
form public policies, as well as those who have lived private pious
lives encouraging others to follow God's ways, are invited to join
in the feast. As you can see, this is not a small, well-defined
group of people. In fact, St. Augustine, in one of his sermons,
says that the saints have widened the narrow road by their passage.
They, by trampling over uncharted ground, have made the road
accessible and broad enough for innumerable God-seekers to find
In this great company there is no
ranking in the order of good deeds. The image that Jesus uses, the
first being last and the last being first, evokes a circle dance
rather than a line of people or even a parade. There seems to be no
beginning or ending to this ever-increasing crowd. If we were to
scan the “witnesses,” many of the people would not be known to us.
But there would be others whom we would recognize: public figures
who have made a difference in our world
As we think about the God-seekers
who have gone before us, we would know many of them by name. These
dear ones have birthed us, physically and/or spiritually. They have
nourished our dreams and supported our visions. They are our
colleagues, family members and intimate friends who continually
shaped our lives through their conversations, questions and
affirmations. They are the ones whom we know by name and whose
spirits still enliven our hearts. All of these people are part of
the crowd of witnesses who gather and sing God's praises on this
feast of All Saints.
This is the day to celebrate
connections -- a communion of saints. The Preface of the Mass for
the feast of All Saints prays: "Around your throne the saints, our
brothers and sisters, sing your praises forever. Their glory fills
us with joy, and their communion with us…gives us inspiration and
strength as we hasten on our pilgrimage of faith, eager to meet
them. With their great company and all the angels, we praise your
glory as we cry out with one voice. Holy, holy, holy….”
Traditionally, the repetition of
the word "holy" is viewed as a superlative way of praising God.
Instead of saying "most holy or holiest ," the Hebrew language
repeats the word three times for emphasis, “Holy, holy, holy”. But
on this day the chant also takes on another nuance. It is as though
the word "Holy" said in one voice by the "cloud of witnesses" echoes
throughout the ages. In one voice, "Holy" bounces off the hillsides
and mountains, "holy" sinks into the valleys and the seas, "holy"
seeps through the crevasses of "time past" and seals them together
with "time present" and "time to come.” "Holy, holy, holy,"
repeatedly chanted by the known and anonymous friends of God, echo
On this day too, as we enter into
the circle dance once again, we look with awe on those whom we
join. It is a feast of solidarity that does not overlook past and
present suffering, but it puts them in the framework of God's divine
compassion and wisdom. It is a day in which we view creation and
all of life with the eye of an artist who envisions a timeless
heaven and earth joined together as one. It is a day we speak as a
poet who reminds us that the grandeur of God is working itself out
in the mystery of time. This is a day in which we join a mysterious
choir that chants God's glory as its echo of hope resounds
throughout the heavens and the earth.
This is a day for memories that
tell us who we are and where we have been. Memories connect us with
the past and remind us of our strengths and weaknesses. They confirm
our commitments and help direct our future. By celebrating the feast
of All Saints we recall our ancestors' commitments and foibles, as
well as God's power in ages past and in our own day. God's grace
permeates all creation. In the midst of struggles and tears, joys
and achievements, God's mercy and compassion heal us and bring us to
wholeness as they did for those who have gone before us. This is a
day that celebrates the working of grace in our lives. By
remembering what God has done in the past, we who are part of the
communion of saints now witness to God's promises being fulfilled in
our lives too.
There is still much to be done.
God's work of creation is still incomplete. We do not know where
God is leading us, but we do know that God has invited us into the
work of creation. What we do and do not do, have strong
ramifications for God's world! Each day is a gift that God offers
us. Let us use it wisely.
Perhaps it might be helpful to
ask ourselves a couple of questions that will heighten our awareness
of the gifts we have received. How can we become more aware of our
own participation in the "communion of saints," and draw strength
from that reality? How do we experience and/or visualize our place
among the friends of God?
Special thanks to Mary Ellen
Green and Maria Hetherton who have helped in editing this article.
"Stories Seldom Heard" is a
monthly article written by Sister Patricia Bruno, O.P. Sister is a
Dominican Sister of San Rafael, California. This service is offered
to the Christian community to enrich one's personal and spiritual
life. The articles can be used for individual or group reflection.
If you would like "Stories Seldom Heard" sent to a friend, please
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If you would like to support this ministry, please send your
contributions to Dominican Sisters of San Rafael, c/o Sister
Patricia Bruno, O.P., 2517 Pine Street, San Francisco, CA
94115 Thank you.