I guess I could say my life with the saints began when I was baptized “Heidi Ann,” when I was eighteen days old. Apparently, they needed the “Ann” to fulfill the Catholic 1950’s requirement of a patron saint in the child’s name. St. Ann (or Anne) was traditionally believed to be the mother of Mary, the Mother of Jesus. So, whether that tradition is myth or fact, I was named for St. Ann.
My godmother (who was also named Ann) gave me a book called “Sixty Saints for Girls” for the celebration of my First Holy Communion in 1964. In thumbing through it now (I fancy myself a minimalist, but yet still have this book), I can see the carefully placed check marks by each chapter as I finished. St. Anne (check), St. Penelope (check), St. Susan (check). It was a fascinating book, telling of the childhoods of these young saints. I got so caught up in their stories, I even aspired to be a saint someday myself!
Growing up, the saints were as close as the birdbath in the backyard (St. Francis), Mother Mary in the rose bed, and the statue of St. Jude on Dad’s dresser. I grew up with great tales of St. Jude’s help all through my dad’s life and I always checked in with St. Ann as part of my nightly prayers. St. Joseph was invoked whenever a house needed to be sold, but we didn’t bury him in the yard, we put the statue on top of the refrigerator and it worked just as well. It’s fair to say that the saints were a big part of my formation as a little Catholic kid in Montana. All Saints Day was a day off school for our Catholic school, too, which endeared me to them even more.
But what about now, as I am a grownup Lutheran in Idaho? What do the saints mean to me now? I have definitely held on to the richest bits of Catholicism, including my love for the saints and mystics. St. Francis is a model for me of humility, simplicity, generosity and love for creation. I was able to take a course on Franciscan spirituality, which has helped me on the path of a simple, yet lovely, life. St. Francis lived in the thirteenth century, but his gifts resonate today. Live simply. Give generously. Talk to animals. We are all God’s beloved creation.
My dad had such a thing for St. Jude and was always calling on him when things were dicey. Dad credits St. Jude for his getting out of Basic Training at the beginning of WWII. I developed my own little relationship with St. Jude when my kids were teenagers. My son especially, was trying to find his way and my asking St. Jude for prayers seemed like a natural thing to do. Eventually, I gave my son Dad’s St. Jude medal, which he treasures. Even now, as big decisions need to be made and Hard Life Stuff comes up, I remind my son about St. Jude. Extra prayers from St. Jude could never hurt, right?
Lutheranism has taught me that all our deceased loved ones are among the saints celebrated on November 1st, not just those officially declared saints. Catholics celebrate the Feast of All Souls on November 2nd, which includes all of our loved ones. I like the idea of celebrating them all together on one feast. Fr. Martin says the saints and loved ones that have gone before us can give us a roadmap to follow, but they are also cheering us on and they pray for us. Their love for us hasn’t ended just as our love for them hasn’t ended. It’s fine to ask them to pray for us; their love for us is still very much alive.
Circling back to what Fr. Martin says about the saints teaching us to become who we are, I believe studying the lives of people like St. Francis, Dorothy Day, Mother Teresa, Dietrich Bonhoeffer helps me be a better me. I am not called to be Dorothy Day, but what can I do in my life to love and serve the poor? There was only one Dietrich Bonhoeffer, but after learning more about him I am more inspired to stand up for what I believe. The saints I have known and loved through my life still love me and cheer me on every day. As inspired as I am by saints and loved ones, God just calls me to be me…the truest me I can be.
Gracious God, thank you for the lives of the saints and all our beloved family and friends on the other side. Their lives give us examples of how to navigate the ups and downs of this world and their love and prayers guide us on our journeys. Help us to live as faithful, loving saints ourselves, here and now. Amen!