11/02/2018

November: The Month of Saints and Holy Men and Women

By Father Ted Dziak, S.J.

November starts with a holy bang – we pray first for All Saints and then for All Souls.  It allows us to pause and look within:  reflecting on our favorite saint or those who shaped and formed us in our faith, and encouraged us to be the human beings that we are today.  Each of us have a unique relationship with our God, and it is usually shaped by the loving people in our family or community who came before us.

When I was young, I remember my Italian grandmother and her collection of holy cards, which sat in a small pile on her night table.  She would gather them for prayer almost every evening as she sat in a large worn stuffed chair.  Glancing at her, I would see her quietly praying, moving her lips, as she read the prayers on those worn cards – many having the names of family members on the back –  memories of the lives loved and now gone.       

I cannot say that I have taken up this pious family custom of worn holy cards, but I do try to take some time to pray for those saints – recognized and hidden – every All Saints and All Souls days.  I encourage this reflection, for it links us to those men and women of faith who have come before us.

If you grew up in a Catholic family, you probably have a favorite Saint – maybe it was the name you chose for Confirmation, or some picture or statue that was in your childhood home.   For me, there was always the St. Christopher medal in our car, and the small statue of Saint Joseph on the night table (we had one that was under the lamp, and would continue to glow after the light was turned off.)  Religious mementos and childhood family memories.

I’ve heard saints described as those who are recognized as having an exceptional degree of holiness and is very close to God.  Perhaps.  But I also like what an early Jesuit spiritual director – that a saint is an average person who has done extraordinary things.  In fact, I still remember my Jesuit mentor saying that any person can be a saint for we all bear the image of God.  I like to think that any person of faith, who seeks to truly live their faith in everyday life, who fights to seek truth and justice, can be saint.  From an Ignatian perspective, it means seeing God in all things.  Everything is sacred in God’s creation – and we focus on the saint in every person and see the good in everyone and everything.

I have my all-star line-up of Saints.  Last month, Pope Francis canonized a man whom I always considered an amazing person of deep faith and conviction:  Archbishop Oscar Romero.  Even before he was canonized, he was on my all-star team – right next to Saints Ignatius of Loyola, Francis Xavier and Mother Teresa.   

Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero is a martyr for the faith.  Oscar Romero was tragically murdered in 1980 while presiding at a Mass – targeted by the Salvadorian military for speaking out against oppression. 

A few years ago, I traveled to El Salvador on an AJCU-sponsored trip for the 25th anniversary of the murder of six Jesuit priests, a housekeeper and her daughter at the Jesuit University of Central America.  It was a powerful and emotional trip for all involved, and the Jesuit massacre, along with the murder of Archbishop Romero, are just two of the heinous crimes of El Salvador’s 12-year civil war, which left over 75,000 people dead.  People murdered for their faith – I realized that martyrs are still present in today’s world.

While in El Salvador, we visited the church where Romero was martyred – his vestments, still stained in blood, in a glass case.  One cannot walk through this church without having your heart moved – a bishop murdered for speaking out against oppression.   I kept thinking, could I ever be brave enough to stand in his shoes – to speak out, even if it meant death? 

There are many, many saints who give us examples of ordinary people who have performed acts of extraordinary acts of courage, grounded and motivated by the love of God. So many and yet probably many more not even recognized by the Church.

November is a time when we should stop and reflect not only on the lives of these men and women, but a time to examine our own lives.  In the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius suggests that we stand before the cross and consider three questions:  What have I done for Christ? / What am I doing for Christ? / What ought I do for Christ?   Our faith is a faith of action.

How does our faith shape our daily life – with mentors and models and the many loved ones in our family and community and world who have come before us?    

Who are your saints in your own personal faith pilgrimage?

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Father Ted Dziak, S.J. is the Vice-President for Mission and Ministry and also serves as the University Chaplain.  He has been at Loyola since 2006.

           

 

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