"We think that saints are very rare . . ."
I very rarely 're-post' items that I have already published on this blog, but I believe that this All Saints' Day post from last year deserves to be posted again - partly in hopes of introducing it to new readers, partly because a quirk in Blogger's indexing of old posts makes the original less than accessible, and partly because I like it. The text that follows is nearly identical with what I posted last year, altered only by light editing and a slightly longer quotation from Joseph Grieboski's article.
The image that illustrates this post is an old photo of me with the late Father Tom King, which I post here in observance of All Saints' Day. Many who knew Tom during the forty-one years that he spent at Georgetown University would unhesitatingly describe him as a saint, precisely the kind of saint that this day is meant for: one who has not been formally raised to the dignity of the altar, one remembered chiefly by God and by those who knew him during his mortal life. "Not a bad public, that," as Robert Bolt had Thomas More say in A Man for All Seasons.
Thomas More is now a saint himself, in the 'official' sense of the word, but the sentiment that Bolt attributed to him is one that exalts all the unofficial saints - all those who, like Tom King, did great things for God in relative anonymity. On All Saints' Day, we remember these anonymous saints in a special way, asking them to intercede for us before the One who knows and has called each of them by name.
For another perspective on these anonymous saints, with particular attention paid to the saintliness of Father Tom King, I would like to share some reflections by my fellow Georgetown alumnus Joseph Grieboski, published not long after Tom's death in June 2009:
The term "saint" is used quite often these days, referring to a good person or a kind person or someone who pulled us out of a jam.Grieboski summarizes some of the highlights of Father King's long career as an academic theologian and university professor, notes that he also offered the legendary 11:15 pm Mass in Dahlgren Chapel six nights a week for 40 years, and points out that Father King also lived 'on corridor' as a Jesuit-in-residence in student dormitories for 21 years. Grieboski then seeks to sum up the contribution that Father King made to the lives of generations of Hoyas - and others:
We think that saints are very rare and especially hard to find, especially in this day and age. In fact, there are many unrecognized men and women of holiness around us each day.
In recent days, we laid one such man to rest. A man who exemplified holiness, demonstrated an intimate love of God, and was a model for each of us to follow to salvation.
. . . Father King’s life was a guide for so many of us. His laughter, his brilliant and witty sense of humor, his ability to make both scholarship and divinity accessible to anyone and everyone, Tom was quiet and unassuming, friendly and disarming. All of which added to his ability to fulfill his mission of bringing Christ to every student, faculty, staff and person he met. Remaining faithful to that mission, for the past several years Father King would cross the Potomac on Monday evenings to offer Mass for inmates at the Arlington County jail.On this Feast of All Saints, I pray that the anonymous saints that each of us remembers and cherishes may remember us in turn. AMDG.
In 1999, The Hoya, Georgetown's student newspaper, declared Father King "Georgetown's Man of the Century", noting that "no one has had a more significant presence on campus and effect on students than Father King."
Ten years later, that remains fundamentally true. Tom King’s impact was not just on Georgetown. The thousands of students whose lives he touched over the years are better men and women as a result. His inspiration and model led countless men to enter the priesthood and women to enter the convent; his love of scholarship and his approach to Truth provided a guide for countless students to become professors; his love for life and all God’s creations molded the worldviews of so many who became physicians; and his undaunted courage and strength for all that is just and right guided so many – me included – who fight for justice thanks to Tom.
For those of us born and reared after the Second Vatican Council, Tom’s 11:15 pm Mass introduced us to a beauty and majesty of the liturgy with which we were not previously familiar. Dahlgren Chapel shrouded in darkness, the multitude of candles around and on the altar provided the only light for the Mass. Reminiscent of the Breaking of the Bread in the catacombs of the early Church, the darkness provided a sanctuary of hope centered on the Sacrifice of the Mass. His sanctified fingers barely touching the holy altar and only handling the Body of Christ when required, Father King’s gentle and respectful treatment of the Eucharist taught us all how to respect the True Presence of Christ. We were taught to be mindful that in our presence was The Presence, the King of Kings, and we should act appropriately and with the respect He deserves and requires.