Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Saints of October

While in the murky mist of waking up this morning, a list of people needing prayer went through my mind. One was a friend named Audrey who would be flying out west on a plane today. The thought of flying makes me nervous, so I prayed for her safety. I subscribe to a daily email of obscure historical facts and saints' days.......and today is the feast day of St. Audrey! So I was quite sure my friend on the plane would have a safe flight.

We Protestants miss out on knowing the stories of the saints, unless, like me, we get interested in them as we get older, and do our own research. I have a calendar from the Fellowship of St. James which lists the historic church feast days for saints and important people from the Bible. On today's date, in the Western Christian tradition, the honored person is Ignatius of Antioch (a bishop martyred in 115 A.D.). In the Eastern Orthodox Christian tradition, the Prophet Hosea is honored. Tomorrow is the feast day of St. Luke the Evangelist.

Last Monday, October 15, was the feast day of Teresa of Avila, a Roman Catholic saint who lived in the 1500's. She was a Carmelite nun in Spain who became intensely interested in prayer after having a vision of a heavenly castle. Another Carmelite Catholic saint of a similar name, Therese of Lisieux, in France, had her feast day on October 1. Last week on a chilly, rainy afternoon, I huddled on the couch under a quilt and watched a DVD movie, "Therese", made in 2005, starring Lindsay Younce in the title role.

The movie relates the story of Therese Martin, who was born in 1873 and grew up with four sisters in Alencon, France. Her mother died when Therese was just four years old. All five Martin sisters ended up becoming nuns. Amazing! Therese was fifteen when she begged to join her older sister at a Carmelite convent. Therese died at age 24 of tuberculosis. Before her death, she wrote down her life story, the method she had found to grow closer to God. It was called "the little way"----doing little things with great love. Mother Theresa of Calcutta's famous quote, "We can do no great things----only small things with great love", must derive from these writings of St.Therese of Lisieux.

Near the end of the movie, Therese on her deathbed says, "I want to spend my heaven doing good on earth." Supposedly she also said, "I....after my death, will send down a shower of roses." This prompts people to ask Therese in prayer to "send a rose" as a sign that their prayer requests will be answered.

The more I read of saints and the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions of praying to them for intercession with God, the more I believe Protestants have really missed out on something. Something very comforting. It may all be tied in with attitudes toward the afterlife. We Protestants seem to bury our dead and then forget about them. It seems I read somewhere awhile back that when Christian missionaries establish churches in African tribal villages, they end up accomodating some of the native beliefs about ancestor spirits----that these spirits come back to aid their loved ones in times of trouble. It sounds similar to the saint system to me, and sounds like something I could be comfortable with.

The booklet that came with the "Therese" DVD included the following definition of a "saint": "Saints are real human people who showed in their lives a great love for God and who are now in heaven. They had lives every bit as happy and sorrowful as ours; they faced challenges and some of them committed serious sins. Some lived lives that drew the world's attention and others were absolutely ordinary. There is every variety of persons in the catalogue of saints. What they had in common was a great love for God----in the end that love was the defining thing in their lives."

Recently, also, I read a booklet from the Orthodox Church, explaining their belief in praying to saints and departed loved ones, who are now closer to God. The departed ones retain love and concern for their loved ones still on earth, and they are in a position to provide intercessions to God on behalf of earthly brethren. I find these concepts very comforting, and not at all a "worship" of saints, or something that threatens faith in God. If anything, it is faith-strengthening. Maybe I look at this all very closely because I feel I may have been acquainted with a saint. There was just something that struck me about the person from the first moment of our acquaintance to the last moment, and I can't shake the feeling that this person is still very much involved here.

I might be called a heretic by some. As I get older, some things just seem very right, and some things very wrong. The idea that our departed loved ones want to be remembered and are waiting for our prayers so they can intercede with God on our behalf seems very right to me. The Orthodox booklet claims that these beliefs were part of Christianity's earliest days up until the Reformation when many Catholic traditions were discarded in the new Protestant doctrines that were formulated. The Orthodox, of course, were not involved in the Reformation, and thus have always held on to their ancient traditions.

Anyway, in closing, the month of October has the privilege of beginning with the feast day of Therese of Lisieux, is supported in the middle by the feast day of Teresa of Avila, and ends with All Saints Eve......or All Hallows Eve, better known as Halloween. In today's newspaper, an article states that some public schools are now dropping the word "Halloween" because it has a religious connotation. Its instead called "Orange and Black Day" or "Harvest Day". Can you believe it??

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