“Do you have a favorite saint that few people have ever heard of? Perhaps a story of one of the famous ones most people wouldn’t know? I invite you to tell that story! Because when we know the stories of the Saints, the Litany transforms from a monotonous intonation of names into fond remembrance of friends.” – Mary Conway
Here is Mary Conway’s family story. What’s yours?
I don’t know about you, but I love the Litany of the Saints. Every year as this feast rolls back around and the names of those holy men and women are sung out over me there’s a little part of me that wishes the song would never end.
Now maybe some of you share that sentiment, and maybe others think the song feels endless enough already. But bear with me. Because honestly, what reads like such a laundry list of names barely scratches the surface of all those we remember on this day. Pope Francis has canonized eight hundred and ninety-two Saints in just the five years of his pontificate. Truly as St. Paul writes in his letter to the Hebrews, “we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1). Even if there are a few empty pews at your All Saints Day mass, I assure you, the church is packed.
So I invite you to ponder with me on this feast of All Saints: whose name would you add to the Litany of the Saints?
Do you have a favorite saint that few people have ever heard of? Perhaps a story of one of the famous ones most people wouldn’t know? I invite you to tell that story! Because when we know the stories of the Saints, the Litany transforms from a monotonous intonation of names into fond remembrance of friends. These are our brothers and sisters in Christ, and that’s not just a cute little saying. What we’re celebrating today is a great big family reunion. It’s a time to laugh and cry and grow red in the face telling the family stories. And we’re a real family. We tell the good stories and the hard ones because the saints are not perfect. They are people, like you and like me.
Yes, like you and like me. This feast celebrates more than just those heroic figures officially recognized by the church. Every man and woman in heaven is celebrated on this day. So let me ask again: whose name would you add to the litany of the saints?
I want to hear about your sainted Aunt Helen, the virtues of your parish priest growing up, or the kindly old man at the supermarket. The saints aren’t just something that happened hundreds of years ago, or are restricted to the ranks of priests and religious. There are people we know living lives of heroic virtue, and they are the ones who can teach us how to be holy sisters, and mothers, and friends. They bring holiness down to our level. We need to tell these stories.
I truly believe we don’t have more lay Saints canonized because of the simple fact that there is no one to put forth their cause for canonization, no one here on earth thinking to beg their intercession. There are more saints buried in the cemeteries of the State of Iowa than any of us know.
But let’s not forget, the path to heaven isn’t easy. We need one another. All Souls follows quickly on the heels of All Saints, and on this day too we tell the family stories. We remember those dear to us whom we have lost, whether recently or long ago. We pray for them, and we commend them to the mercy of God.
And so on this day too, I ask you to consider: whose name would you add to the litany of the saints? Who are the souls in purgatory, begging your intercession to be admitted to the communion of saints in heaven? What are their names? Pray for them now.
My grandfather, Henry, passed away many years ago now. Our family has a tradition of adding a little prayer for the poor souls to the end of our grace before meals, and Grandpa was often a little impatient with this addition. My mother would chime in that “When you die, Henry, we’ll be praying for you too. And we like to eat, so that will be a lot of prayers!” Now perhaps he no longer has need of my prayers, but I still remember him, and all the souls in Purgatory, every time I bless my food.
May the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
All you holy men and women pray for us.
That’s my family story. What’s yours?
Copyright Mary Conway, 2018. All rights reserved.