By FATHER JAMES S. BEHRENS, OCSO, Commentary | Published November 12, 2015
The church sets aside this day so that we may remember our saints and rejoice because of their lives. The list of saints is a very long one.
And it is a list that offers a generous array of people who did what they could to allow the love of God to shine through them. There are martyrs, scholars, contemplatives. There are the rich and the poor, the powerful and the weak, the privileged and the disadvantaged. There are those who longed for the light of faith when faith seemed to have left them and there are those to whom faith seemingly came in abundance.
Eric Voegelin was a German-American philosopher perhaps best known for his multi-volume work, “Order and History.” He also left us a lesser-known work, a memoir, which was titled “Anamnesis.” In that book he wrote of the importance that luminosity had in his life.
The luminous came to him through memories, memories that remained with him, unbidden, memories that led him to believe that there was something or someone guiding him through this passage we know as life. One memory that stayed with him was when he was a little boy, standing with his grandfather on the rear of a ship as it was slowly making its way out of the harbor at night. Voegelin remembered the darkness of that night as the ship moved through the water. He also remembered seeing the lights of the city in the far distance as the ship traveled farther and farther away from them. That memory of darkness and light and the slow but sure passage of the ship stayed with him his whole life, and its luminous and telling nature inspired him and filled him with wonder.
The saints of our church are from the past, like living lights of a vast city receding from view, as we must move forward on the waters of life.
But these same saints are also of our present and share a full and participatory life in the Mystical Body of Christ. Their presence has the quality of the luminous—spirits of the realm of the eternal who yet live and move through time, guiding us through the darkness of this life. Voegelin wrote, “Christ is the head of the corpus mysticum, which includes all people from the beginning of the world to its end. He is not the president of a special-interest club.”
The saints, in all their diversity, call us to move ourselves as church from parochial or special interests. At this juncture of history, our pope is clear about the imperative nature of this move beyond the comfortable and familiar to the new.
When Mother Teresa’s writings were published after her death, there were many who were dismayed, even shocked, when they read her words that described her doubts, her sense of a faith that was lost, her sense of pain because of God’s seeming absence from her life. The writings covered a time span of years, not days. Life was a long, dark journey for her.
But some kind of light burned within her and moved her, despite whatever despair she knew, to touch the dying, to comfort them, to hold them close to her heart. Hers was a life that embraced the wounded, the destitute and the dying. She vowed to remain with Christ on the streets of Calcutta and remained when he seemed to have left her.
But perhaps he only exchanged places, from the heavenly and far Jesus to the one who lives and dies in us—here and in Calcutta.
Today we take notice, in a spirit of joy and gratitude, for the saints who call us to look about and see the world anew, a place where holiness lies hidden, waiting to be discovered anywhere and everywhere when illumined. Their lights burn on a far and receding horizon and are yet for us beacons of hope, guiding us through the darkness of this life to a life yet to come.
Trappist Father James Stephen Behrens is a monk at the Monastery of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit in Conyers. His books are available at the monastery web store at www.HolySpiritMonasteryGifts.com.