November 1st is a day that on the Christian calendar is known as All Saints Day. It may sound odd to some, but I think we miss out on blessings by ignoring holy days like this one. Growing up in an evangelical church world, I lived with an inaccurate view of who and what defined a saint. The word conjured up images of people who were dressed in robes and had little halos of light around their heads. Believing that they were worshipped by people and arrogantly I decided that they were idols, but I cheated myself of the great blessing that the saints are in the process.
I didn’t comprehend the idea that these figures in these images were real people who lived at specific moments in history who did a fair amount to preserve much of the tradition that means a great deal to me. Until probably about ten years ago I didn’t really give a great deal of thought to the history of the church and what the actual heritage of my community of faith is. Don’t get me wrong, Christian history is no walk in the park. People who share my belief system have done some AWFUL things in the name of God, but to throw out all of the beautiful people and the rich history that also exists would be a mistake in my opinion.
Think of people like Saint Francis, a young man who lived in Assisi, Italy in the twelfth century and who had a vision of Jesus telling him to rebuild the church. Francis went on to do some incredible things sometimes even standing in opposition to the church of his time. He went to Egypt in the middle of the crusades seeking to share the love of God with the Sultan who the rest of christendom was warring against. Francis also encouraged his followers to care for the earth, for the poor, and to live a life of simplicity. I love the fact that the current Pope chose Saint Francis as his namesake. If you ask me, I think the world could use a bit more Saint Francis and a little less Jerry Falwell…
Or think of Saint Patrick, most people just think about him on the day of the year when they want to get hammered without anyone judging them, but that man was RADICAL in every sense of the word. Born in Britain, kidnapped at age sixteen, enslaved in Ireland for six years, after his escape he returned to Britain and joined the priesthood. During his time studying, Patrick had a dream that people in Ireland were crying out for him to return to share the gospel with them and return he did to spread the gospel to the Irish who had previously held him captive. He even returned to the slave master and payed what would have been required for his freedom. He was a bold man who lived a wild life for the kingdom of God.
The picture above is of an icon of Saint Mark, that my brother got me while he was visiting Italy last year. Saint Mark is the writer of the second gospel account in the New Testament and traveled with Paul on his first missionary journey. While he wasn’t a disciple of Jesus himself, Mark is thought to be the young man who was sitting around the fire with Peter during Jesus’ trial. He was faithful to stand alongside the apostles at the birth of the church and he faithfully wrote their accounts of the life of Christ. He continued sharing the gospel until he was martyred in the streets of Alexandria.
There are innumerable other examples of men and women throughout Christian history that have set for all of us an example of what is possible when one is devoted to God. That is, to me, the purpose of the sainthood: to show us the best of what humanity can really be when we devote ourselves to God. Many people have deified these men and women, which they never would have wanted and in opposition to this, others have sought to defame them. My desire is to more greatly understand the history of my community of faith and to learn more about the men and women who lived amazing lives of faith throughout the centuries and from whom we can learn more about what the Kingdom of God looks like!
Find a saint who you identify with or admire the most and post in the comments!
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I definitely love St. Francis but have been falling in love with St. Hildegard of Bingen, a Benedictine Abbess, healer, artist, musician, preacher, spiritual director, prophet, poet, the list goes on and on. One of her great gifts was insight into viriditas, or “the greening power of God”, the life force at work in all of creation. This central creative principle was key for Hildegard in sustaining her soul and her work. And I feel such connection to God through nature so have been very drawn to Hildegard and her life.
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