This Sunday we will celebrate the feast of All Saints’. This is one of the Principal Feasts of the Church and one that can take precedence over regular Sunday readings. All that fancy church talk means that All Saints’ Day is a pretty big deal in The Episcopal Church.
Given the importance of this day in the life of our church, you might expect that we Episcopalians would have a clear understanding of what we mean by “saint.” We use the term to refer to the “whole family of God…bound together in Christ by sacrament, prayer, and praise”; but we also use it to refer to individuals who have been identified as “chosen vessels of [God’s] grace and the lights of the world in their generations.”
Unlike our brothers and sisters in the Roman Catholic church, we do not have a precise process to “make someone a saint.” We only call a very small number of folks “saint,” and that list is in the prayer book and confined to people from the Bible or the early period of the Church. We do have some guidelines on who should be remembered in our calendar of Lesser Feasts and Fasts, some of which are being a real person; being a baptized Christian; and being deserving of remembrance.
One of my favorite “almost saints” is Dorothy Day. She is on track to canonization in the Roman Catholic Church and has a devoted following with The Episcopal Church. I think Day is a particularly relevant saint for the 21st century. She dropped out of college, was a journalist, was an activist for women’s voting rights; she partied and drank; she rejected Christianity; and had a child outside of traditional marriage. But she found her way back to God and to the importance of the Church and brought her activism and gifts to her ministry in the world.
Day is often quoted as saying: “Don’t call me a saint, I don’t want to be dismissed that easily.” I do hope that has the process of making Day a saint, we don’t polish off all those rough edges of her life that are so important to understanding the work she would do in service to Christ. We have a tendency viewing those that we call saints as doing impossible things, and that keeps them at a safe distance from us.
As we celebrate All Saints’ Day, I am glad that The Episcopal Church has left some ambiguity in the definition. I am glad that I can remember and be inspired by the saints that did the impossible, like St. Mary the mother of Jesus or St. Francis of Assisi. But I am also glad that I am able to remember those saints that lived lives that seem more possible, like my grandmother Christine, who taught me to love the prayerbook, my grandfather Charles, who taught me to love history and family, or Dorothy Day, who taught me that being a “saint” is not about perfection but is about being fully human and being fully open to the Holy Spirit in our lives.
Who is a “saint” in your life that you want to remember? Join us this Sunday at 6 pm to celebrate all the saints and stay for supper following the service.