I recently saw a film about elderly D-Day soldiers returning to the beach at Normandy to honor those who fought and died alongside them in World War II. It was moving watching them share memories, tears, and gratitude for the sacrifice of their friends. “All Saints Day” is this kind of remembrance for the church.
The first Christian martyrs were honored at their gravesite on the anniversary of their death and Saints Days developed from this tradition. In those early years, I imagine there were eyewitnesses of the event, with tears, and gratitude for a faithful witness (“martyr” comes from the Greek word for “witness”). Then, after the first generation, stories would have been passed down. Eusebius, in the 4th century, wrote about the heroic death of Blandina, a slave girl 200 years earlier in Gaul (now Lyons, France). Although she was described as frail, Blandina had suffered such extreme tortures in the Roman coliseum that the crowds were “astonished at her endurance.” Eusebius goes on to say: But the blessed woman, like a noble athlete, renewed her strength in her confession; and her comfort and recreation and relief from the pain of her sufferings was in exclaiming, “I am a Christian, and there is nothing vile done by us.”1
Yesterday’s celebrations of All Saints Day included all Christians, martyrs, and non-martyrs, known and unknown. But it is an excellent time to remember all who have died for the faith throughout Christianity, particularly those who are persecuted and dying in parts of the world today.
1 Eusebius, Church History, Book V, #19. http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/250105.htm
Celebrate All Saints’ Day by listening to selections from Paraclete Press poets Bonnie Thurston, Susan Miller, Kathleen O’Toole, and Scott Cairns, inspired by the lives of holy men and women through the ages, read by members of Elements Theatre Company. Click the title of any of the poems to start listening…
Scroll down and click the book titles to learn more about the poetry collections from Paraclete Press that contain each of these selections.
“Thanksgiving for Saint Thomas”
By Bonnie Thurston
From Practicing Silence
“Saint Francis and the Parsley”
By Susan Miller
From Communion of Saints
By Kathleen O’Toole
From This Far
“Capable Flesh — Inspired by the Writings of Saint Irenaeus”
By Scott Cairns
From Endless Life
We celebrate these two apostles together on the same day because their relics were brought together from the Holy Land to Rome in the 6th century.
We have just a few references to these apostles in the scriptures. James is often referred to as James the Less in order to distinguish him from James, the son of Zebedee, and from James “The brother of the Lord,” or perhaps to indicate youth or lack of stature. He is believed to be the first bishop of Jerusalem, and early church historians state that he drank no wine, wore no sandals, was celibate and prostrated so often in prayer that his knees hardened up ‘like a camel’s hoof!’ He died as a martyr in Jerusalem in 62 AD.
Philip had a “go-getter,” zealous type of personality. One of the first chosen disciples, he obeyed immediately when Christ found him and said, “Follow me.” Philip then found his friend Nathanael, and told him that he was sure that Jesus was the One that Moses had written about in the Old Testament. Nathanael replied famously “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” and Philip simply responded “Come and see!” Philip also had the gift of saying out-loud the things that were in everyone’s mind. He questioned Jesus about how he was going to feed the 5000 with no money to buy food, and at the Last Supper, in his fervor, he asked Jesus to show them the Father.
O God, who gladden us each year with the feast day of the Apostles Philip and James, grant us, through their prayers, a share in the Passion and Resurrection of your Only Begotten Son, so that we may merit to behold you for eternity.
by Sister Spero
Who was St. Nicholas, whose feast is celebrated on December 6?
Very little is known about St. Nicholas, the inspiration for Sinterklaas, Santa Claus, Kris Kringle, and “jolly ole St. Nick.” The real St. Nicholas was a bishop in Myra (now in modern Turkey) in the 300’s during the Roman persecutions of Christians. He was imprisoned, and then released when the Emperor Constantine embraced the Christian faith. He was present at the Councils of Nicea, which affirmed Christian doctrine and gave us the Nicene Creed. Early images and icons of St. Nicholas look ascetic and severe, nothing like “jolly ole St. Nick.”
So where did the legend begin? Bishop Nicholas was thought to have been a wealthy young man who gave his money away secretly. A well-known story in the Middle Ages was about three sisters (destitute and without a dowry, so they could not be married), who were about to be sold as slaves. One of them put her stocking out at night, and in the morning found it filled with gold, enough for a dowry. The same thing happened to another sister the second night. The third night, the girls’ father stayed up to discover the secret visitor and found it was Nicholas. All three girls were saved.
St. Nicholas is one of the most popular saints in the world. It is ironic that a secret act of mercy would be the inspiration for so much gift-giving today, and make the anonymous giver a household name nearly 1,700 years later.
We rediscovered this treasure from last year — especially appropriate in the middle of this season of hurricanes, when so many are suffering, and are now preparing for the next storm. We continue to pray for God’s protection for all of those in the path of the storm.
The waters have risen and severe storms are upon us, but we do not fear drowning, for we stand firmly upon a rock. Let the sea rage, it cannot break the rock. Let the waves rise, they cannot sink the boat of Jesus. What are we to fear? Death? Life to me means Christ, and death is gain. Exile? The earth and its fullness belong to the Lord. The confiscation of our goods? We brought nothing into this world, and we shall surely take nothing from it. I have only contempt for the world’s threats; I find its blessings laughable. I have no fear of poverty, no desire for wealth. I am not afraid of death nor do I long to live, except for your good.
I have his promise; I am surely not going to rely on my own strength! I have what he has written; that is my staff, my security, my peaceful harbor.
The Feast of John Chrysostom, Bishop of Constantinople
“If you cannot find Christ in the beggar at the church door, you will not find him in the chalice.”
“Not to share our own wealth with the poor is theft from the poor and deprivation of their means of life; we do not possess our own wealth, but theirs.”
“We must not mind insulting men, if by respecting them, we offend God.”
The saint we know as John Chrysostom, was not called Chrysostom (which means “golden-mouthed) until after his death. It was his golden-mouthed preaching and writing that made him a great teacher of the early church, but also caused him great personal grief. His feast day is celebrated on September 13.
As a result of his reputation as an orator, John was kidnapped from his church in Antioch in 398 and made the Archbishop of Constantinople, the center of the Roman Empire at the time. He accepted the position as the will of God, but denounced many important leaders (including clergy) in the city for their extreme wealth and corruption. His denouncements of Roman citizens by name led to his banishment more than once, the last resulting in his sickness and death in 407.
To put John Chrysostom’s life in perspective: Emperor Constantine issued his edict decriminalizing Christianity (the Edict of Milan) in 313. John was born in 349, just 36 years later. It was not until 380, when he was 31, that Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire. He became a deacon in Antioch the following year.
by Sister Fidelis
Today we celebrate the Solemn Feast of Saint Benedict of Nursia. Here in our Community, one from the Benedictine monastic tradition, this is an especially significant day. We begin Vespers with a beautiful hymn written by Saint Peter Damian (1007-1072 AD), Benedictine reformer, and Doctor of the Church. Found in the Breviarum Monasticum, the hymn is written in Mode I and has a lovely lyrical tune which sets off the stunning poetry. Damian uses phrases such as “precious jewel of the heavenly king”, “your heart fixed on the stars,” and “you work through the narrow beginnings of a strict life” as he recounts the life of Benedict.
Each verse begins with a stepwise melody in the lower range, blossoms in the middle with leaps of 4ths and 5ths, and then settles back to a repeat of the opening phrase. It sticks to the typical features of Mode I – beginning and ending on Re and at points hovering around La. The clarity and simplicity are the perfect backdrop for the hymn text and a beautiful tribute to a man who influenced monasticism and thereby chant in such a significant way.
By Open Eyes
Recently we had a reading at Lauds from a Commentary of Augustine. His words: “The entire life of a good Christian is in fact an exercise of holy desire. You do not yet see what you long for, but the very act of desiring prepares you, so that when he comes, you may see and be utterly satisfied…. Simply by making us wait, he increases our desire, which in turn enlarges the capacity of our soul, making it able to receive what is to be given to us.”
I found the word “desire” running around in my head for a while after hearing this reading. What is it I desire in my life, and how can I increase my desire for a deep relationship with my God? Returning to Augustine’s words I heard the word “exercise” in a different light. Learning to desire God in every part of my life requires training, repeated exercise, gaining strength with each choice I make to put him first in my life, in the things I pay most attention to.
Physical training and exercise require stretching. Augustine talks about the spiritual stretching of “the sack” or “wineskin” to increase our capacity. Life often feels like a “stretching” that I don’t always appreciate. Perhaps though the stretching is what increases my desire for more of God.
by Faithful Friar
BEDE — 672–735
I like St. Bede. He went to live in a monastery at age 7 and never left the monastic life. He traveled to many places and met many Christian writers, but only through books, as his monastery had a vast library. He never set out to become a saint, or the Father of English History. He wrote The Ecclesiastical History of the English People to record the sacrifices of many who had given their lives for the Christian faith in England. I think he would be surprised at the veneration we give him today. In all humility, I think he would say – “I didn’t do anything. Look at the people I wrote about. They deserve the honor.” He is a good example to me.