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The Challenge and Gift of the Communion of Saints

By Michele Szekely
March 22nd, 2011
Le blog de la Bergerie (www.leblogdelabergerie.com/index.htm)

One of the first lessons of the saints is: "Don't be deterred by problems, don't be discouraged by rejections, don't be distracted from the goal!  See - and seek - the good in the world. Be part of the sanctification of the world. Know that something else is going on and that it starts with each one of us".

SamoŽns, France (Le blog de la Bergerie) - "Befriend the saints!" is the best advice that someone gave me when I first returned to the Catholic faith. "Read about them, see what they have done, turn to them in prayers, respectfully and lovingly, and you'll see how much they will help you." This was fairly new to me since my understanding of the communion of saints was very superficial in the beginning.

But I followed this advice, turning to Saint Francis de Sales first (because he wrote so beautifully and so simply about loving God and what practical steps we can take to come closer to him - and because he is a local saint, from the French Alps, from Annecy, which is where I went to school). I kept finding so much encouragement and wisdom in the writings of Saint Paul that I started praying directly to him too, asking him to pray for me. After all, that is what catholics mean when we speak of "praying to the saints". We are joined with them in a loving communion in the Lord and they are our friends. 

At about the same time, I read a little book about Saint Monica that just transformed my understanding of motherly tears and love when they are permeated with total trust in God, so I added her as well. Finally, since I now live in San Francisco, it was very fitting that I turned to this wonderful icon of charity and brotherhood, saint Francis of Assisi! Here was a true champion of respect and care for the creation (centuries before our own green awareness) and a tireless peace-maker. A strong advocate of simplicity and poverty (which I find especially attractive as an antidote against hoarding and greed) Francis is a terrific role model for letting go of fear: the fear of the wolf, the fear of the leper, the fear of the other.

And this is how I found myself with quite a solid and remarkable quartet of saints. 

But once I had entered this new country, this "land of saints", I became aware of the lesser-known ones and I found myself making new friends again and again. Right behind the front line of the mega saints, there is a huge cloud of witnesses. and they are all here to help us! Do you know the names of Philomena? Or Ponce de Faucigny or Ephraim the Syrian? Gianna Beretta Molla, Edith Stein or Christina the Astonishing? Talk about diversity! Each saint has a unique charism given by God to flourish at a specific moment. And it was given to them for us, to help us grow in the love of God and love of neighbor. Once in that wonderful territory of the communion of saints, I understood better the implication of its premise.

It extends to all believers in Christ.

"Now you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God". (Eph 2:19). Thanks to prayers and grace, in turn it lead me to better grasp the Trinity. Jesus challenges us to be true followers (that is what being a Christian means, we are "little Christs"). It is a life long process and we get to test it daily in our relationships with our neighbors. It is just amazing to realize the links between all of us, the living and the dead. I thought of my own grand-mother who gave me the foundations of the faith as a child. The communion of saints is based on faith, prayers and charity. It's all about love and it's all about relationships!

It took me a long time to really understand this simple truth. I asked the help of the great ones who came before us (which reinforced the sense of membership into one family and which allowed me to see beyond the limits of space and time). I used "prayers" to reach them (and the process of intercessory prayers underlines the invisible bonds between us all and it increases humility and hope and patience, since it has to be done whether you see immediate fruits or not). "In this solidarity with all men, living or dead, the least of our acts done in charity redounds to the profit of all" (Catechism of the Catholic Church 953).

It dawned on me recently that there is a parallel in our current global connectivity and the communion of saints! Our recent achievements in new technologies and social networks, our progress in travel, transport and communications, have brought us to a new level of awareness of each other and of the global common good. What are we going to do with this awareness is now the challenge.

What did the saints do?

When I look back, I can see that the saints worked tirelessly in schools and orphanages, hospitals and hospices and soup kitchens. They took care of whatever was needed around them, wherever they were, in whatever means they could manage, and they were the first to know that it was all thanks to the grace of God.  We have two roads to reach them: on the one hand, there are the stories of their lives offering a wide spectrum of models from humble nurses and door keepers to the most famous scholars and founders of orders but the common thread in all of them is the encouragement and inspiration, healing and peace that they spread around them.  On the other hand, there is the fact that we have access to them right now through faith and prayers and it is an amazing and on-going source of aid.

Therefore I see hope for all of us.

There is such a sense of so many things converging today that I wonder what will happen when our minds and souls (and mouths!) will finally work in sync and what will be achieved. No matter the great failings of today, no matter the fact that there are still wars and crimes, pollution, manipulation and lies (whether they be the result of personal sins or structural sins), one of the first lessons of the saints is: "Don't be deterred by problems, don't be discouraged by rejections, don't be distracted from the goal!  See - and seek - the good in the world. Be part of the sanctification of the world. Know that something else is going on and that it starts with each one of us".

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