Today the Catholic Church celebrates the Solemnity of All Saints. It is a day on which (to use the words of the Opening Prayer for today’s Mass) “we rejoice in the holy men and women of every time and place.” For me it is a day to reflect on the saints who hold a special place in my heart, both those who have been canonized by the church and those who have not. Saints like Francis of Assisi, Vincent de Paul and my great-grandmother.
But I also realization that my typical visualization of the communion of saints doesn’t tend to include many other holy people through the ages in whom there is reason to rejoice. I was reading something the other day about one of the most recent to be added to the ranks of canonized saints – Damien of Molokai, the Belgian-born member of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary who spent a significant portion of his life working among people suffering from Hansen’s disease (leprosy) on the Hawaiian island of Molokai. Damien spent his life ministering to them until he himself contracted the disease and died in 1889.
A comment in America magazine asks what someone like St. Damien, whose life seems so difficult to emulate, can say to us. It suggests that “powerful resonances can be heard if we listen carefully,” explaining
What parent is not called upon to minister to a child who falls ill, even at the risk of contracting the same illness? Who is not called to stand with the outcast, with those whom polite society shuns either literally or metaphorically? Who is not called to do works of charity and love that remain hidden from the rest of the world?
We may not all be called to go to a placed far away from our home to care for those with a disease that has always seemed to hold a certain horror for us. But we are all called to care for the sick, the poor, the outcast, the forgotten, wherever we are.
Today is not just about fondly remembering those who we call saints, but about being inspired by their deeds, seeing them as models for our own discipleship.