Most homes have “stuff” that has been inherited or we can’t bring ourselves to throw out. It may be china or a christening gown, jewellery, a recipe book or tools. I have several plastic crates holding the journals my father wrote during the last twenty five years of his long life. As I handle one of the journals with its difficult- to- decipher writing I see my father, sitting at the kitchen table writing about his day in one of the exercise books he bought at a two dollar shop. Such items are precious, tangible reminders of the person who owned them.
Memories of loved ones are tangled things, calling up a jumble of emotions.
I remember my husband who loved golf and John, his brother, who drove a train and conducted the parish choir. Both died far too young, both moved slowly into death with the same loving faith that characterized their whole lives.
I remember an aunt who devoted her life to looking after her widowed mother and unmarried brothers. Her Methodist faith was deep and strong for the whole of her 95 years.
I remember Kate, the long- anticipated and much loved baby who knew nothing about Jesus, and whom God gathered up into eternal love before she could walk or talk.
None of these will have a church named after them, or be mentioned in the Litany of the Saints, but the Church recognizes each of them on the feast of All The Saints.
When I was young the feast of All Saints was like a roll call of people who had Saint tacked to their name. They all seemed to be much the same: lived a long time ago, either died as martyrs or lived what seemed to me to be very uncomfortable lives. Most were priests, bishops or nuns, often identified with the place they lived in. All up, they didn’t seem to have had much fun or even share anything in common with the people I was familiar with. Then and there I decided that sainthood was something that was out of the reach of ordinary people.
Now I know differently. For every Francis of Assisi and Teresa of Avila there are thousands of unknown and long forgotten mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, friends, co-workers, neighbours, nurses, supermarket employees and other individuals in various occupations and countries, who all lived prayerful lives, imbued with the Gospel values of Jesus Christ.
The Apostle’s Creed says this very simply: I believe in the communion of saints. Suddenly my family story isn’t all there is. In some wonderful God -way I am linked with every person who ever linked their lives to God, whatever their race or culture, whether they died today or thousands of years ago.
Sometimes it is good to remember that each person’s life story doesn’t just begin at conception and end at death. Each person’s story starts before they are born and goes on into eternity. There is no time with God. Our prayers for those who have died have been gathered up into eternity, contributing to their bliss of everlasting life with God.
November invites us to pray to and for all the saints- both the canonized and the uncanonized- asking them to help us to live our lives in faithfulness, hoping that one day we too will be numbered among all the saints.