All Saints’ Day: Befriending the Saints
Not being raised Catholic, my understanding of saints was murky at best. I knew they were people whose lives honored God, whose faith shone brightly, and whose actions brought forth miracles; but the idea of asking for their intercession was uncomfortable for me. While grateful for their example of faith, I was not sure how prayers to saints and intercession functioned in my spiritual life.
Shortly before I was confirmed, I explained these feelings to a dear friend. She considered it and replied “think of it like asking a friend or family member for prayer. We pray for one another all the time, and the saints are a part of our community of believers too. They are folks who we believe are already in heaven so they have a close connection to God. When we ask for their intercession, we are asking them to pray to God for and with us.”
I’d never thought of the saints as friends before this. I knew that we were a part of a community of saints, that we esteemed and strove to emulate them; but this idea of friendship struck a new chord with me. If we were asking for intercession from them like we would a friend, shouldn’t I get to know them as I would a friend? Shouldn’t I seek out their stories, their triumphs, what causes captured their hearts?
This led me on a path to engaging with the saints in a new way, in what I hoped would be a more personal and intentional manner. Some saints have entire libraries worth of books dedicated to their life story, others have scarcely any information, but they each have a story worth knowing. It’s such a joy to stumble upon an aspect of a saint’s life that you share, the beauty of finding connections years, perhaps even centuries, apart.
Previously, when I thought of saints, I pictured the classic image of a haloed figure who found Christ and was henceforth flawless and joyful. How wrong I was. Having read further on the lives of saints, I have come to know and appreciate their multifaceted lives both before and after conversion.
Saint Teresa of Avila, who is quite dear to me, wrote extensively on her difficulty with physical and mental health and how this affected her ability to concentrate during prayer. Saint Ignatius of Loyola wrote about a period of his life he called “the desolation” in which he felt deeply depressed and unwell. Saint Jane Frances de Chantal wrote openly about her difficulty in trusting God and the blessing of spiritual direction in righting her path. You may also find stories that capture your heart in the lives of those in the process of canonization such as Sr. Thea Bowman. A powerful force for the Lord’s kingdom, Sr. Thea remained steadfast in her mission even when diagnosed with breast cancer.
These are just a few of the saints who walked dark paths for extended periods of time; and while this may be difficult to read about, it also inspires a sense of kinship with them. Their lives had heavy burdens, their faith did not magically whisk away their troubles, but they persisted in love and trust.
As we celebrate All Saints’ Day, I encourage you to choose a saint or two and get to know them as a friend, as a fellow traveler on the journey of faith, as someone to whom you can look not only for inspiration on the bright days but also for kinship and companionship on the dark days.