I loved Halloween when I was a kid. Dressing up, canvassing the neighborhood for candy…. Best of all, if Halloween fell on a weekday, there was never school the next day — because it was a holy day of obligation, All Saint’s Day. What a great holiday! Only Christmas could trump it.
Nowadays, I pay little attention to Halloween. Our street does not get trick-or-treaters. And, being a grown-up, I am aware of far too many real-life terrors to be enchanted by grinning jack-o’-lanterns and costumed monsters. But I retain affection for All Saint’s Day.
There are many saints who have provided me with support over the years. For instance, Saint Jude, patron saint of hopeless cases, has more than once been my prayer-partner. I’ve also leaned on Saint Anthony, patron saint of lost things, for help in finding everything from homework to misplaced keys. And what good Catholic hasn’t muttered, “Mother Cabrini, Mother Cabrini, find a space for my machine-y” in a crowded parking lot? (Really? Just me?)
Certain saints, however, hold a more indelible place in my heart. Take St. Lawrence, my patron saint. Asked to present the Romans with the riches of the city, he brought in a crowd of poor people, an offense that bought him the death penalty: roasting alive on a giant barbeque. During his death, he was heard to quip, “Turn me over; I’m done on this side.” I love him for his sense of humor, his bravado, his commitment to the poor. I see a lot of St. Lawrence in Pope Francis.
St. Theodora, also known as Mother Theodore Guerin, was the founder of the college I attended, St. Mary-of-the-Woods. Known for her commitment to educating women in a time when college was considered dangerous to a female’s health, Mother Theodore was a force to be reckoned with. She simultaneously embraced humility and obedience while refusing to back down from her commitment to her mission, even when the local bishop effectively kidnapped her, locked her up, and told her she was excommunicated from the Church. A woman who once gently directed her order to love children first, then instruct them, St. Theodora is a model of patience, kindness and strength.
And then there’s Thomas Merton, who is not a saint yet, but who ought to be. Brilliant from the get-go, the son of an artist, Merton was a long-time atheist who found God in the most surprising of ways. (I urge anyone who is unsettled on the question of God to read Merton’s Seven Storey Mountain.) He became a Trappist monk and a prolific poet and writer, covering a wide variety of topics, such as social justice and Eastern religions. He died too young, and with him the world lost one of the 20th century’s great spiritual thinkers.
We are used to thinking of saints in the past tense. It seems incredible that saints might walk among us today, but they do. What do they do that the rest of us don’t? Not much, really. Sainthood is less a way of doing than a way of being. As Mother Theodore said, “Let us never forget that if we wish to die like the Saints we must live like them. Let us force ourselves to imitate their virtues, in particular humility and charity.” In a world where humility and charity are in short supply (just look at our politicians), let us not forget the example of the saints.