I Sing a Song of the Saints of God
Jesus traveled through all the towns and villages of that area, teaching in the synagogues and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom. And he healed every kind of disease and illness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. He said to his disciples, “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields.” Matthew 9:35-38
Another Halloween has come and gone. For those who gave out candy, or went trick or treating with family, did you notice the little ones with smiley faces gave cheery greetings as their hands greedily dove into bowls of candy? Beyond the joy of giving out candy, did any of you keep track of the kinds of costumes the children wore? It depends on the fads of the year, of course, but you can always count on scary characters: murderers from horror movies, Grim Reapers, vampires, skeletons, ghosts, and monsters. There are bound to be warriors of one sort or another: Power Rangers, ninjas, and superheroes, as well as football players, soldiers, and pirates. And don’t forget the animals: a dog, a rabbit, a lion, a giraffe, and a few black cats. There are always happy characters, too: fairies, princesses, cheerleaders, clowns, ladybugs, pumpkins, ballerinas, and brides. Sometimes there are costumes of real people – I didn’t see any of them on the streets, but I’m sure plenty of Trump masks were sold this year.
How many children come dressed as something we would identify as religious? Angels, maybe, but that’s about it. After all, wouldn’t it be naive to expect our children to dress up as famous Christians of times gone by. And besides, where would you buy a saint costume? Would we have to resort to designing flowing robes and halos or something that looks like the way we think people dressed in Jesus’ day? Here are some ideas from saints who have inspired me:
How about dressing as a monk in black robes and a wide-brimmed black hat, with a Hawaiian lei and bandaged hands? The man who became known as Damien the Leper was the only priest willing to minister to the 800 lost souls and crushed bodies in the leper colony on the island of Molokai in Hawaii in the 19th Century. His love for the Gospel was so great, his desire for the worth and dignity of all people was so passionate, he stayed on the remote and forgotten Island for eleven years. He dressed residents’ ulcers, built a reservoir, made coffins and dug graves, and provided both medical and emotional support. Eventually Damien acquired Hanson’s Disease and became one with his afflicted flock.
How about wearing a long, stiff, brown hooded robe, a long white beard, and round hippy glasses? You would be a favorite saint of mine. His real name was Barney, but the people of Detroit knew him by the name he took when he joined a monastery: Solanus Casey. When he joined the priesthood in 1904, church officials didn’t think he had what it took to be a full priest. Officials realized he had high moral character, so they ordained him to perform menial duties in a monastery. Even though he was a priest, Solanus Casey was never allowed to preach or hear confessions. After seminary, he took a job as a porter, first in NYC and then in Detroit. That means his job was to open the door of the monastery to visitors. Guests to the monastery soon realized that Solanus Casey was the best person to visit. People waited in lines just to speak to Father Solanus. He shared in their concerns and worries. He prayed for them, and inspired them, and spread the message of God’s love. All could sense his wisdom and his special gift of prayer. Throughout his life, Father Solanus kept extending God’s welcome, showing generosity, and being God’s doorkeeper.
Here’s a costume idea: A woman in khakis and a t-shirt, with blond hair pulled into a tight pony tail, carrying keys to a bus and a bag of toys. It’s a costume of Kathryn Martin from Evansville, Indiana. We’ve seen the pictures on the news or maybe even lived the scenes ourselves: A natural disaster strikes and suddenly people who only minutes ago were living their normal lives are left with just the clothes on their backs, and a feeling of despair. But sometimes all it takes is one person to give us the help we need to make it through. When a tornado ripped through a small Indiana town in 2006, Kathryn Martin couldn’t get the news of it out of her mind. She knew firsthand what they were going through. Six months earlier, a tornado had struck her town, taking the lives of her 2-year-old son, her mother-in-law and her grandmother-in-law. Kathryn, her three other children and her husband survived. Kathryn loaded her car with juice boxes, snacks and toys and drove 60 miles to the victims of the latest tornado. After the drop off, on her drive home, Kathryn came up with an idea to help more kids. She spent the next few months organizing homegrown fundraisers: carnivals, car washes, walk/runs. Finally, she unveiled C.J.’s Bus, a 35-foot school bus-turned-mobile-playroom. Stocked with bins of video games and DVD s, toys, crafts, books and much more, the bus traveled for five years to disaster-torn towns, giving children a safe place to play while parents picked up their lives.
You could dress in an oversized jacket that covers multiple layers of sweaters and shirts. Walk with a defeated hunch in your shoulders and hastate to make eye contact through the large glasses sitting on your nose, held together with a safety pin. Even if you carry a pen and a notebook, you’ll have to explain to people that your name is David Harris. David Harris speaks softly and eloquently, each word chosen with the care of a true poet. David’s intelligence and kindness are never realized by most of the world because for much of his life, David has struggled with homelessness. David grew up in a middle-class home in Maryland, complete with middle-class American values. He would go to work in DC every day, uncomfortably passing by homeless people on his way to work. David eventually had a stroke that left him unable to speak for a while. Since he had no health insurance, the enormous medical bills were too much for him to pay. He decided to move to the streets of D.C. Even if he got two 40-hour/week minimum wage jobs, David probably would not have enough money to afford housing in D.C. and pay for insurance. He told me about the people who helped him along the way, from a homeless woman he used to look down on, to a caring social worker at a shelter. David was a poet in his previous life in the working world. He writes:
This drunken bum
Looked into my eyes
Into a place inside me …
No words passed between us,
Only a steely glare.
Just five words burned
Along the edges of my mind:
“I am not like you.”
How about dressing as a woman with dark circles under her eyes and rough hands from being up nights caring for a sick child and working days at her job to put food the table — a single, working mother giving herself away to make a better life for her family.
How about a man who was just been fired from his job. He doesn’t know how he will pay bills or feed his family. He has lost everything. But he still finds joy in going to his kids games, connecting to the community, and finding ways to live out his faith in the most desperate of times.
Maybe a trick-or-treater could dress up like an elderly person who has touched our lives – someone who may not even be related to you but she has prayed for you and with you for years, given you wisdom, told you her courageous stories, and inspired you with her deep and simple love for God.
Maybe a trick-or-treater could just go dressed as a regular child, such as the boy I read about who went to a scouting contest for homemade pine racing cars. It was one of those events where the contestants are supposed to do their own work but most of the fathers help too much. At one of these toy car derbies, a youngster with no dad showed up with a racer he had obviously made with his own unskilled hands. The contest pitted boys in pairs, one against another with the winner advancing to the next round in a series of eliminations. Somehow this one kid’s funny-looking car won again and again, until, defying all odds, he was in the finals against another scout with a slick-looking, well-made racer. Before the championship race, the boy asked the director to wait so he could pray. The crowd, now enthralled by the unlikely story unfolding before them, stood in silence, loving the boy and secretly praying with him that he might win; he seemed so deserving. After the boy won the race and was given a trophy, the director said, “Well, I guess it is a good thing you prayed, so you could win.” “Oh, no!” the boy protested, horrified to have been misunderstood. “I didn’t pray to win. That would have been wrong. The other scout had as much right to win as I did. I couldn’t pray that God would make him lose. I just prayed that God would help me keep from crying if I lost.”
There is, of course, something more important than how children or adults dress up for Halloween. We don’t just imitate the saints. We are the saints of God. Each and every one of us. Those who have gone before us just show us the way. That’s why we remember the saints. Some of them are publicly known and recognized in the light of history. Others hide in the obscurity of ordinary struggles. All Saints’ Day celebrates what we can be at our best. The stories of their lives remind us of who we are, what we believe, and what we can become. They remind us how closely a human being can follow the example of Jesus. They draw us forward, give us courage, strengthen us to do God’s will, and lead the way. Their good examples remind us that God reaches out to us with grace and love and care. They have gone on before us to the nearer presence of God, but they are also connected to us. Those who know rest from their labors help keep us from growing weary on our, often difficult, Christian pilgrimages.
Saints remind us that the fields are ready for harvest, and the workers are few. But what a difference those few workers make!
They inspire us not to lose sight of the ultimate goal: Jesus’ command to love God with all our hearts and minds and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. They remind us of the qualities that make a godly worker – workers who present themselves to God as those who correctly handle the word of truth. They are people whose words we can rely on.
All Saints’ Day is a time to think beyond our limitations and to believe that we have the potential to respond to God’s gracious love with active love for others — with commitment and caring and giving. The saints remind us of the fullness of life that God intends for us all.
The Protestant reformation put the saints got rid of the idea of Saints, especially the idea of venerating Mary the Mother of Jesus. At the dawn of the Reformation, Catholic devotion to Mary was seen as a form of idolatry. Maybe there is some room to bring the saints back into our protestant lives. I don’t pray to Mary or Saints. I don’t ask them to intervene on my behalf. BUT – if somehow Mary and the saints are in a heaven somewhere and they want to pray for me as my friends do here on earth, then wonderful. I will never turn anyone’s prayers away! There’s an old hymn that says, “A world without saints forgets how to pray.” You know we live in difficult times just as those saints did. And often we feel threatened or discouraged by the troubles we face. So, we pray to Jesus to come and deliver us and encourage us and give us faith. I can almost hear Jesus responding, “Where are the approved workers I gave you? Where are the witnesses and heroes I gave to inspire and encourage you? Where are the stories of lives lived in faith that I gave to strengthen your faith?” Who are the saints in your life? What have they taught you? How do their examples give you wisdom for today? How do they help you dream of a different world? And what are we going to do about it?