Late at night, when assailed by worries and fears, I draw them around me and call them by name. Michael. Mary Alice. Carl. Marie. James. Jacquie. The list goes on – my own personal “circle of saints” to whom I turn for comfort and consolation. My parents are part of the litany along with grandparents, aunts and uncles, and, of course, my beloved daughter, Jenny. My two good friends, John and Joanie, who, while hundreds of miles apart died within hours of each other, are also part of the circle. Their passing was made a bit easier for me by this mystical connection, almost as if they decided to accompany one another into the next life. Remembering each person and drawing hope from the life they share far beyond my comprehension eases my anxieties and places my fears in perspective.
I used to pore over stories of the saints as a child. I inherited a set of booklets called The Little Lives of the Saints from my older sisters. From them I learned rudimentary tales of such celestial giants as Catherine of Siena and John of the Cross. It was later in life that I began to appreciate the feast of All Saints – that great celebration on November 1st of “…all the redeemed, those on earth and those who have died.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 871) My knowledge of the saints began to read less like legends from time past and more like up-close and personal stories of friends and family.
Such a notion has brought heaven and earth closer together, something those steeped in Celtic spirituality know well. In his book, Anam Cara, the late John O’Donohue laments the way we have “spatialized” the eternal world. Doing so places the saints far away rather than in our midst. “…You can sense the presence of those you love who have died,” he writes. “You feel that they are near.” No wonder “thin places” are those experiences where, according to Celtic wisdom, that sense grows sharper and more profound. Perhaps that is why the Church has wisely designated a special day to not only celebrate but also to hone our spiritual senses. In doing so our own circle of saints grows larger and more exquisite, spiraling ever outward to include those role models of faith from faraway times and the more immanent reality of those here among us.
Follow the Lives of the Saints throughout the year and find activities for your family or class. Use these stories to initiate discussion about the circle of saints in your lives.