Thursday, November 02, 2006

Two days for the rest of us.

It's a commonplace of Jesuit life - or perhaps of religious life in general - to engage in lighthearted speculation about which of Ours might someday be canonized. When I was an undergraduate at Georgetown, I once purchased a well-worn breviary at a book sale. Various scribblings and notes within the book attested to the fact that it had belonged to a long-deceased Jesuit who had taught at Georgetown. Hoping to learn something about the priest whose breviary this had been, I brought the book to one of my Jesuit mentors. As he parsed the delicate, tissue-thin pages of the breviary, my mentor said, "You should on to this book - it could be a second-class relic!" The implication, offered somewhat in jest, was that the original owner of the breviary was a true saint.

Much more recently, as I was preparing to move into the Jesuit community that I would live in during my Long Experiment in Chicago, more than one Jesuit told me that a couple of my future housemates were numbered among "the saints of the province." After only a few days living with the men in question, I saw that the "saint" moniker was well-deserved, for each modeled the Christian virtues and the vowed life in a quietly heroic manner. The Jesuits I'm talking about may never be canonized, but it hardly matters. Their brother Jesuits think of them as saints, and so do many of the people they've served. I pray and believe that God sees them as saints as well.

Yesterday, Roman Catholics around the world celebrated the Feast of All Saints. Today, we celebrate the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed, popularly known as All Souls' Day. These two days are unique in all the year; in fact, I like to think of All Saints and All Souls as "two days for the rest of us." Though the Church calendar is filled with commemorations of saints and blesseds, these are the only two days devoted to those we don't necessarily know by name. On the Feast of All Saints, we remember the countless saints who have lived and died in relative obscurity, known only to God and to the people who were close to them on earth. On All Souls' Day, we remember all the faithful who died in the hope of the resurrection, particularly our own deceased relatives and friends. Taken together, these two days provide an opportunity to remember people who may never have achieved any sort of public notoriety, but who remain close to us and close to God.

There's a wonderful exchange in Robert Bolt's play A Man for All Seasons that captures something of the way I feel about these two days. This exchange (also preserved in the film version of Bolt's play) takes place between Thomas More, soon to be named Chancellor, and Richard Rich, an ambitious young man seeking public advancement. Urging Rich to accept a teaching position that has been offered to him, More says, "Why not be a teacher? You'd be a fine teacher. Perhaps even a great one." "And if I was," Rich replies, "who would know it?" More answers, "You, your pupils, your friends, God. Not a bad public that."

Living the Christian life, one may at times be tempted to ask, "If I became a saint, who would know it?" Sainthood (in the sense of personal holiness) is something all Christians should strive for, though few of us will ever become canonized saints. However, if we seek to be holy in the hope of attracting public recognition, we're really missing the point. For all the saints we remember in the liturgy there are many more whose names we will never know. The witness of these anonymous saints has as much value in the eyes of God as that of the saints we recognize publicly. At the same time, we who has been inspired by the example of towering figures like Ignatius of Loyola can no doubt also recall the impact made in our lives by saintly men and women whose quiet witness will never attract much notice. Over the course of these two days and during the following month, we should take some time to remember the parents, pastors, teachers and mentors who have offered us guidance and inspiration. These are the saints and faithful departed who will remain known only to us and to God. Not a bad public that. AMDG.


At 11/06/2006 2:07 PM, Blogger LilBucner said...

speaking of the Feast of the Faithful Departed ... have you seen the movie "The Departed" yet? Awesome, awesome film - possible Best Picture. Nicholson plays, basically, Whitey Bulger.

At 11/07/2006 9:01 PM, Blogger Joseph Koczera, S.J. said...

I have indeed seen it, and I thought about posting a review... Nicholson's performance was probably one of the most egregious examples of scenery chewing I've seen in recent years, but other than that I thought it was a great movie - Oscar material for sure, and probably to be remembered as one of Scorsese's best.


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