Fairly recently, I learned for the first time of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles, California. As experimental as the very contemporary exterior may seem, the feature that caught my interest was a series of 25 tapestries inside depicting the Communion of Saints. This series of images includes 135 identifiable holy men and women from every corner of the globe who have been officially recognized as saints or blesseds by the Catholic Church, along with 12 anonymous figures of various ages and backgrounds. This twelve reminds us not only of the saints who are unknown to us, but also that every one of us is called to live lives of holiness like they have. “How I want to be in their number, when the saints go marching in!”
I’ve spent sufficient time outside of a state of grace to put great hope in the maxim that every saint has a history and every sinner a future. I love All Souls Day (November 1) because of the opportunity it provides us to remember the spiritual friends we have supporting us, even when we feel alone in this world. As a teacher, it was also a good occasion to remind students that saints are simply those who have found full union with God and now support us on earth through their prayers: far beyond the ones well-known enough to make the official list, these saints include many loved ones who lived ordinarily lives extraordinarily well. As much as I appreciate all this though, I love All Soul’s Day (November 2) even more.
The saints, ESPECIALLY those who receive public recognition, have led such heroic lives (even those that got off to a bad start) that focusing on them alone might tempt us to forget the role played by God’s grace. After all, after leading such bold, God-filled lives, of coursethey go to Heaven—I mean they earnedit, right? We easily forget that they were only able to do such wonderful things through the power of God’s grace and the love with which they responded to it. But what about the rest of us who too often may feel like camels that can’t quite squeeze through the eye of the needle?
All Soul’s Day helps us put the focus squarely on grace, because it helps us remember that even when we feel like we’re only on God’s B-team (at best), Jesus came for our sake as well. It helps reassure us that the uncle we liked, who often meant well, but who we can’t quite imagine in Heaven, will be able to get there after all, thanks in part to our prayerful support. He’ll eventually be a saint after this life, even if he never was one in this one.
We’re all called to be saints, but depending on where each of us is in our own particular lives that can sound either encouraging or daunting. Yes, “the glory of God is the human person fully alive,” as we often attribute to St. Irenaues of Lyons, but what does that even mean? How could I ever be fully alive enough to truly reflect God’s glory? It helps to remember that the human person does not live in abstract… each of us human people live our own lives, and if we do so with integrity, i.e. if I try to live out what God is calling me to instead of what God is calling youto, the dazzling diversity in the emerging mosaic can truly shine forth the greatness of our Creator.
I don’t think it is any coincidence that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops chose to place the National Vocation Awareness Week in such close proximity to the feasts of All Saints and All Souls. So from November 4-10, and really at any time, try to take time to reflect on God’s call in your own life, and also affirm where you think you might see God’s call for others. See somebody who you are convinced would be a great religious brother or sister? Spouse? Deacon or priest? Let him or her know. Do you see somebody who seems quite content to live a single life and who you believe can do so healthfully? Support him or her in that as well, as the single life too can be a true vocation that is often misunderstood. And remember that the question of vocation isn’t settled once you’ve figured out your proper state in life… God will have more plans for you still, and is just getting started! Maybe a good prayer of discernment could be, “Now what, God?”
The “ear candy” and “brain food” for this week both relate to the vocation to holiness that we all share, each in our own way. The Salesian Bosco Boys remind us explicitly that with God’s help, we can all be holy. Meanwhile, Bro. Ernesto Sanchez, our Marist superior general, shares some thoughts as to how the young might not only be encouraged to pursue holiness, but also serve as an example to each of us who try to pursue it ourselves.
Ear Candy: “Who Says You Can’t Be a Saint” by The Bosco Boys (and Array of Hope, uncredited)