December 3, 2020

Let the Saints Teach Us to Be Children

Today is the day many Christian traditions celebrate All Saints’ Day (some celebrated earlier last week). On the first page of our church bulletin this morning were these words:

“All Saints celebrates the baptized people of God, living and dead, who are the body of Christ. As November heralds the dying of the landscape in many northern regions, the readings and liturgy call us to remember all who have died in Christ  and whose baptism is complete. At the Lord’s table we gather with the faithful of every time and place, trusting that the promises of God will be fulfilled and that all tears will be wiped away in the new Jerusalem.”

So, on this day we remember all the faithful departed, giving thanks for their memory and drawing strength from their example and our ongoing communion with them.

In the Lutheran tradition, we speak of three specific honors that we should give to the saints who have gone before us.

  • The first is thanksgiving. We thank God for the gifts he gave those who have gone before us, and we thank God that they have been gifts to us and to the world.
  • The second is allowing our faith to be strengthened by them. When we remember our loved ones, we know they were not perfect people. Like us and like all people, they were weak and needy. Yet God helped them, forgave them, strengthened them, and used them to bless others. We draw strength in knowing that God can do the same in our lives.
  • The third honor we give to the saints is that of imitation. We remember the good qualities of our grandparents, fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, children, and friends. We recall their faith, their kindness, their laughter, their love. We urge ourselves to learn from their lives, to follow their example, to live so that people will remember and want to imitate the example of our lives as well.

If we understand this day correctly, we will not look at those who have gone before us as superhuman or bigger than life, and thus aspire to be something more than the flawed human beings we are. Instead, we will take the lesson Henri Nouwen learned from an experience that caused him to reflect on the childlike dependence that should characterize each step of our earthly journey.

That’s the mystery that God has revealed to us through Jesus, whose life was a journey from the manger to the cross. Born in complete dependence on those who surrounded him, Jesus died as the passive victim of other people’s actions and decisions. His was journey from the first to the second childhood….

I have been blessed with an experience that has made all of this clear to me. A few years ago, I was hit by a car while walking along a roadside and brought to the hospital with a ruptured spleen. The doctor told me she wasn’t sure that I would make it through the surgery. I did, but the hours lived before and after the operation allowed me to get in touch with my childhood as never before. Bound with straps on a table that looked like a cross, surrounded by masked figures, I experienced my complete dependence. I realized not only that I fully depended on the skills of an unknown medical team, but also that my deepest being was a dependent being. I knew with certainty that had nothing to do with any particular human insight that, whether or not I survived the surgery, I was safely held in a divine embrace and would certainly live.

This freak accident had led me into a childlike state in which I needed to be cared for as a helpless infant, an experience that offered me an immense sense of safety — the experience of being a child of God. …When we know that God holds us safely — whatever happens — we don’t have to fear anything or anyone but can walk through life with great confidence.

Our Greatest Gift: A Meditation on Dying and Caring, pp. 14-16

Perhaps you have never had such an experience. At this point in your life, you have been healthy, strong, self-confident, and able to face and deal with life’s challenges. But think about the loved ones you honor today on All Saints’ Day. Think about the whole course of their life and let it teach you. Let it teach all of us.

Some of you were personally involved in caring for them in seasons of life when they were helpless and dependent. Some of you felt lost when trying to help them. There are all kinds of moments in our lives when God gets our attention and reminds us that life is bigger than any of us and we had better learned to trust and accept help from God and from those around us.

May the loved ones that are on our hearts and minds today teach that we are all children, that we live by God’s grace and gifts, that we need the love and support of people around us, and that we are dependent on kindness and encouragement with every step of our earthly journey.

Eternal God,
You sustain and renew all that you have made.
We thank you for the gift of life,
The grace of new life,
And the hope of eternal life.
As we remember those who have gone before us,
Look with mercy upon those whom we have named before you.
Grant us grace not only to remember them in gratitude,
But also to remember what lies ahead
That we may live and trust in you
Until we too come to rest in your loving embrace.
For the gifts you have given us,
And the hope you have laid before us,
We give you thanks.
In your holy name we pray.



  1. Chaplain Mike, you must have transferred the Feast from its traditional day of Nov 1.
    This is the link to the tapestries at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles. The image of all the saints worshipping in heaven and on earth our One Lord it moving to me.

  2. In Lutheran churches and others that celebrate Reformation Sunday, All Saints is commemorated on the first Sunday in Nov.

    • Richard Hershberger says

      To expand on this, we know perfectly well that All Saints Day is November 1. In a perfect situation, it would be celebrated that day every year. But in practice it is one of the feasts that gets celebrated on a nearby Sunday. So is Reformation Day, October 31. This means that Reformation Day is usually celebrated early, and All Saints Day late.

  3. David Cornwell says

    Today in our church we had a time for solemn remembrance of those members who died in the last year. Their names were called and there was a tolling of the bell after each as a reminder of their lives and faith. After the reading of the names by the pastor, those in attendance call out other names of loved ones and friends.

    Then near the end of the service, the final hymn is sung “For all the Saints” one of the verses reading:

    “But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day;
    The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
    The King of glory passes on His way.
    Alleluia, Alleluia!”

    • Richard Hershberger says

      Set to the Ralph Vaughn Williams music, I hope. The original music for that hymn was perfectly serviceable. The Vaughn Williams is inspired.

  4. Isaac / Obed says

    While All Saint’s Day is officially November 1 on the Anlican Calender (in keeping with the Western tradition) most parishes celebrate it today as a community. I noticed that the BCP’s rubrics called for the collect for the Feast of All Saints’ to be used “throughout the octave” suggestging that while All Saint’s Day is November 1, the Feast is celebrated for a full 8 days.

    I really like those Lutheran insights above, Chap Mike. Good perspectives!

  5. This childlike state is critical because unless we become as little children…

  6. In our congregation we usually kneel at the altar railing that totally encircles the altar, for communion.

    Today we just used half of the railing leaving open the space on the other side of the altar as a rememberance of our brothers and sisters in Christ who have gone ahead of us

    • Steve, what a beautiful communion that must have been. At our service they also read the names of those who have gone ahead and a bell tolled after each name. Plus we incorporated Veteran’s Day and specifically remembered those who gave their life in service of our nation.

  7. The icon on the lower right is of the 99 martyrs of Crete. When St. John the Wonder-Worker was killed by accident (a passing hunter thought he was a wild animal), 98 others died out from…sympathy, I guess.

  8. Ok, these questions are off topic but I have meaning to ask them and they are about the monastic life, and this is an active thread so maybe somebody can give me some answers. I could of course, if I weren’t so lazy find these answers myself, but why work hard when I know somebody here can just tell me the answer:)

    Modern day monks like where Chaplain Mike went- Do they have any sort of material wealth? Do they have bank accounts? I’m sure they have to file taxes right? Do they list “Monk” on their form and say no income? What happens if they get sick? Like really really sick? Does the RC church take care of them if they need expensive treatment for cancer? How about routine things like dentistry? These are odd questions but they just popped into my head the other day while I was reading Chap’s post.

    • The monastery is the monk’s family, and the family takes care of all of the monks physical and medical needs. Many Trappist Monasteries have a wing dedicated to caring for elderly monks. Often one of the monks is trained as a nurse.

      I’m not far from the Trappist Monastery in Dubuque–if you check out this link you can read the obituary of a monk who died after a long (32 years) paralyzing illness.

    • So now let us look at our infirmary project. What guiding principles do we use in drawing up plans? First of all, chapter thirty-six of the Rule of St. Benedict is a good place to start, “On Care of the Sick.”
      Commentators tell us that Benedict was way ahead of his times in what he says in chapter thirty-six. For instance, he says, “Let a separate room be designated for the sick and let them be served by an attendant who is God-fearing, attentive and concerned.” Compared to other monastic rules, this is extremely liberal. The use of a bath is another example, so is eating meat by the sick. These are unheard of things at the time. Benedict says the sick are to be cared for before and above all else. “Ante omnia et super omnia”—these are words used by both Basil and Augustine to describe the New Testament commandment of love. Love is before all and above all other virtues. Of course, the ultimate is where Benedict says, it is really Christ who is served in the sick. Sickness is a place of mystery, a place where Christ is more present. The sick are served out of respect for God, Benedict reminds us. There is an added dimension to the care of the sick. The people involved directly are the sick themselves who are given many dispensations from the monastic discipline, those that care for them and then the abbot. Twice Benedict says the Abbot is to be extremely careful that the sick are not neglected. Then overarching all this is the mystery of Christ in the person of the sick monk, the suffering Christ.,%202003

  9. I can only answer part of your questions from personal experience.
    Do Monks have any material wealth? No. They take vows of poverty, chastity and stability. Everything belongs to the Order and the Community. They get what they need. They don’t make a salary if they live in Community.
    Do they have bank accounts? No, see above.
    I don’t know if they have to file taxes or not.
    If they get sick the Community and Order pay for whatever treatment is needed. I worked in a Catholic hospital. A lot of the care we gave, pretty good care btw, was free, to priests, religious and laity, even for really expensive stuff. I think the diocese or Order would reimburse for some things, but I know a lot was free.
    Some things are done pro bono by the laity for priests, etc. Don’t know about dental care, but probably cheap or free.
    Diocesan priests and the undercover nuns who live in apartments receive salaries, I think they have to file income taxes, but they aren’t paid much. I think but can’t swear to it that they pay into Social Security and Medicare. The parishes pay them a salary. Our parish has a Franciscan brother, called a Friar who is charge of social ministries and a Fransiscan priest. They live in community but work for our parish and our parish pays them salaries but I think they give most of their salaries to their Community who pays for their needs, lodging, etc. I think they get a small allowance for personal needs like books. These guys all dress simply and live simply and most of the orders I have been around know how to squeeze a nickel till it screams.
    The Catholic Laity are expected to help support the various Orders and our diocesan priests and religious. We have several special collections a year to finance those things.
    The Benedictine Orders (like the Trappists at Gethsemani) are expected to make things as part of their Rule. They make cheese, host retreats, make leather goods. Mystic Monks in Wyoming blend and roast coffee for sale and it’s great, btw.
    The Benedictines (OSB) of Solemnes in France and Los Silos in Spain and, now, Heiligenkreuz in Austria have all made recordings of their chant for liturgy. These help support the Community.
    I don’t know about the European Communities re medical care. I just know what I’ve seen in the US and Latin America and it may vary, so, sorry if I’m wrong on some areas. Hope this isn’t tmi.