What is a saint?
The root of the word “saint” is holy. A saint is one who is holy. When Paul uses the word, he is referring to all those who follow Jesus. At that time, the saints were those still alive in the Christian communities to whom he was writing. He greeted the saints and passed along greetings from the saints. He called on people to live lives worthy of being saints and he worked to raise money for the saints. Saints were not holy because they were perfect, Paul was writing to address problems after all! They were holy because they were trying to follow Christ.
We do not call every Christian a saint anymore. Over the generations, the definition narrowed to those especially holy ones who have died and typically we mean those who have been officially recognized. Many of these saints have particular feast days, but there are so many we that cannot recognize them all individually. The Feast of All Saints is a day to remember every saint, even those who do not end up getting onto official calendars. All Saints is also a day to remember the saints as a group – not just as individuals, but as the Great Cloud of Witnesses. While each saint has a unique witness to Christ, the saints as a whole also have a witness.
A couple of years ago, the movie and soundtrack for Moana were on heavy rotation in our household. If you do not know the story of Moana, let me offer a brief synopsis. Moana lives in a peaceful community on an island with an abundance of food, but a disease has started to kill the coconuts and the fish, threatening their way of life. It is revealed to Moana that the solution will only be found by sailing across the ocean. Moana has always longed to sail, but her father, the village chief, forbids anyone to sail beyond the reef. He has always tried to suppress her interest in the ocean.
But her grandmother disagrees and takes her to a secret cave full of huge boats. In this cave, Moana has a vision of her ancestors. In great Disney fashion, she learns through song that her ancestors were sailors and explorers, searching out new islands. They did go beyond the reef; they did sail across the ocean. This reveal is the turning point in the movie. Moana decides to go.
There is a great line in this song, “We tell the stories of our elders in a never ending chain.” In hearing the story of her elders, she learned her identity and her vocation. The same is true for us. In telling the stories of our elders in a never ending chain, we learn who we are and what we are called to do. We call our elders Saints. And we need to tell their stories to better understand who we are as followers of Christ.
The Prayer Book says that the saints are lights. The light they are shine is not their own. It is the light of Christ. Francis shined that light different from Perpetua. Lucy shined it differently than Dr. King. Archbishop Romero shined it differently than Brigid. But they all shined Christ’s light into the world. In telling their stories we are reminded that we are to shine Christ’s light into the world’s darkness. It is who we are. It is what we are to do.
As a parent, I love to tell these stories to my kids at All Saints. We have several children’s books with saint stories and I love to read those. Tomie dePaola has several good ones. Forward Movement offers good resources. There are others. Every year, I am inspired on All Saints to not only tell these stories now, but year-round. Like many parents, I get overwhelmed by the reality of life and my best laid parenting plans get interrupted. But here on another All Saints, I am going to try again. To try and tell these stories in a never ending chain. To help my kids and myself remember who we and what Christ has called us to do by looking to the saints.
[Image Credit: Public Domain via Pixabay]