Growing up Catholic, stories of martyrs and pious people were about as exciting as the statues of saints peering down from the rafters in plastered perfection. No matter how I tried, I just couldn’t connect with the saints as models for what it looks like to be fully in touch with God and fully alive.
Years later, when I moved to Chicago and became a parishioner at Old St. Patrick’s, I had to reckon with the saints again. Not only did a huge statue of St. Patrick himself stare at me from the center of the sanctuary each week, but the parishioners, many of them Irish, went around invoking the saints like they were old friends.
About that time, the church was in the process of restoring the Celtic stained glass and stenciling renowned Irish artist Thomas Augustin O’Shaughnessy created in the 1900s. One day I noticed that the niche along the north wall closest to the sanctuary was empty. I just figured that one of the saints was getting a makeover. Then I overheard a parishioner explaining, “we leave that niche open so people can imagine their favorite saint sitting there watching over us.”
Suddenly my imagination opened up and I thought of all the “saints” in my life I’d put in that niche. It wasn’t a huge leap to imagine the saints of our Catholic tradition as the same kind of good and loving people who’ve helped people through the ages.
On this Feast of All Saints, let us be grateful for the holy women and men who have lived their faith and shown people the way throughout history. Let us also call to mind the saints in our lives whose example and love and kindness have made all the difference.
—Jeremy Langford is the director of communications for the Chicago-Detroit Province Jesuits and author of Seeds of Faith: Practices to Grow a Healthy Spiritual Life ©2007 Paraclete Press, Brewster, MA.