Peter Rosengren: Saints constantly watching over us

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Saints Brigid, Clare, Joan of Arc, Lucy, Margaret, Martha, Mary Magdalene and Rita are depicted in a stained-glass window in a mausoleum. The feast of All Saints is celebrated on 1 November. Photo: CNS, Gregory A. Shemitz

They are, presumably, vast in number. Paul, writing to what are usually believed to be Jewish Christians, exhorted his audience to remember that they – and obviously we – are surrounded by a vast cloud of invisible witnesses who are constantly urging us on in this life with the power of their prayers.

Keep up your efforts to live the Christian life, he urged. Don’t lose your fervour, don’t slide into indifference.

Two great feasts in the life of the Church are almost upon us.

We Catholics and orthodox Christians look out on a world in which so much has changed against our faith, a world, really, that has been transformed within two or three generations into an increasing culture of hostility to Christianity and especially the Catholic Church.

But the feasts of All Souls and All Saints are living water for souls that may feel weary and almost lost in the desert of modernity with the endless assaults against not only our faith but against common sense, the true, the good and the beautiful.

We see this in our own state and around our nation. It is rapidly becoming a crime to teach children that boys are boys and girls are girls and that where there is confusion about this we are ready to understand and help someone lovingly without pushing them into lifelong changes that cannot be reversed and which bring personal disaster for their lives.

Catholic hospitals which revere the sanctity of human life are being ordered by state governments to become involved in killing patients. Educator-activists push to corral children into forms of gender ideology which, in a curricular sense, are forms of child sexual abuse.

States pass laws which are contradictions in logic and cannot possibly function to break the sacrosanct Seal of Confession. No priest, sworn to protect the Seal, can possibly defend himself. Marriage, the best bedrock and foundation of childrens’ lives, the formation of good human beings and the life of the nation, is eroded and attacked and ridiculed and marginalised as an instrument of oppression and personal suffocation.

Refugees, the human flotsam and jetsam of this world, are excluded from our bounty while the only Good Public Samaritan is the one who does not stop to help.

Yet to give in to such discouragement would be a fatal error – against hope and against the very vocation we have been called to and for which each of us has personally been brought into being by God. The feasts of All Souls and All Saints show us in illuminating ways why and how that is so wrong.

The ‘they’ that Paul referred to as an invisible cloud are precisely those living human beings (and not to ignore the angels) who we cannot see yet who have gone before us in faith and now live watching over and praying for the entire work of human salvation, for us.

This should encourage us greatly to the point of overcoming any temptations to negativity or discouragement. They are, to borrow a phrase from Solzhenitsyn, our invisible allies, our real family.

High in the mountains of the Andes many decades ago, university students formed a Maoist insurgency which came to be known as Sendero Luminoso – the Shining Path. In Spanish, the name Sendero Luminoso is very beautiful. It evokes a numinous way, something mystical, leading ever upwards and on to a utopian paradise. Instead, Sendero Luminoso became the most feared and deadly violent movement in South American history, an Andean Khmer Rouge.

If a gang of arrogant and entitled university pseudo-intellectuals were the Shining Path, Christians are called to be something far greater and utterly different. We are meant, so to speak, to be a Shining Cloud of witnesses, of saints, despite life’s bruising and sometimes crushing burdens and sufferings.

The Spanish word for ‘cloud’ is ‘Nube,’ which means Christians are never senderistas but Nube Luminoso, a shining cloud or – more properly – Nube Luminoso de los Santos, the Shining Cloud of the Saints. Revolutionaries, ideologues and terrorists have bullets, guns and laws from which they think all power flows. We Christians have prayer.

With the Feast of All Souls we show that we do not forget our brothers and sisters journeying under the state of Purgatory to heaven. We acknowledge their existence, we acknowledge and affirm their intentions. We show that death has not lost them to us because, to us, they are alive, they matter – intensely.

Praying for those who have entered the next life is a wonderful and life-giving act of Christian charity and of human love. It is even a thing of joy which overcomes the sadness and grief of this temporary separation.

For we know that one day we will all be re-united in our true homeland, our true country, that is already as close to us – like the saints and those in Purgatory – as our thoughts and our heartbeats and our prayers. Courage.