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Thanks Be To Our Saints

November 6th, 2022

By: Rev. Jackie Hibbard

I was first introduced to All Saints Day at the United Methodist Church I attended in college. We did not recognize it in the small United Methodist churches where I grew up. It intrigued me, this notion that we honor those who have died before us and give thanks for the gifts they gave and the way they paved for us. And you can talk to them - it blew my mind.

I had heard of saints before, but that was not big in my rural protestant upbringing. I knew that my Catholic friends all took saint names during confirmation, but I didn’t know what that really meant or why they did it or who they were unless it was Mary, Elizabeth or Joseph.

As I reflect more, I think the timing of my first All Saints Day was perfect. My mother had died less than a year before and I recognize now that I was grieving her loss though I could not have put that into words then as a 19 year old. It felt important in ways I couldn’t name at the time to light a candle and remember her that day in worship. I think it was that Thanksgiving when I went home that I found her high school class ring and started wearing it to remind me of her and that she is always with me. I still wear it. It’s important and sacred.

I’ve come to really appreciate All Saints Day and remembering the people who forged the path so I can be here today, and so we can be here. While they may not live on this earth as we do, their legacy lives on. I’ve worked in hospice long enough to appreciate the mystery and wonder when people who are dying see loved ones who have gone before. Usually they know them and sometimes not, but these visions of their ancestors, their saints, are real whether I can see them or not.

I find comfort in this. That our loved ones who have gone before are around. That their legacy lives on in part because we remember what they taught us.

Saint Teresa of Avila is an actual sainted person in the Catholic Church. If you have been with me in Breathing Space or any meeting in the last few weeks where I needed to offer an opening, you know I had to do a presentation about her in my Spiritual Direction program I’m taking. I’ve come to love her more than I did when I just knew a couple of her writings. She lived in Spain in the 1500’s during the Spanish Inquisition and during the time of Martin Luther. Now before you dismiss her as “old and obsolete” since she lived so long ago and what could this Catholic nun possibly have to offer me today, be open minded and open hearted as I tell you about her.

People were dying all over Europe because of the plague, times were desperate. The rich were getting richer and the poor were getting poorer. The church was experiencing a time of taking in money from the rich and not necessarily serving the poor. Teresa, a Carmelite nun, taught anyone who came to her a method of prayer called Mental Prayer as long as they could pay her and the church. Rich people came from all over to learn from her and she loved the attention and notoriety.

And then, she got sick. So sick, she almost died and in fact her fellow sisters thought she had died and prepared her grave but then realized she was alive before putting her in. She was paralyzed for a few years and bed ridden. During that time she experienced visions and other mystical experiences. These visions and experiences continued even when she was healthier and it led her to become a reformer in her tradition along with her student, John of the Cross. They stayed within the Catholic Church while Martin Luther’s movement went another direction.

You can tell by the reading Kari read for us today that Teresa had quite an intimate relationship with Jesus. She understood his teachings about serving those who need help and that we are indeed the hands, eyes, feet and body of Christ now and it’s up to us to carry on his work and teachings. She understood the scripture well that Kari read too. She knew what it was like to not be understood, to be hated, to be reviled, to be in need of constant help and support from others. She needed to turn the other cheek when her superiors and other leaders ostracized her for her visions and her attempts to reform her order and return to serving the poor and not just the rich. We can thank her for this teaching that still resonates today: “The important thing is not to think much but to love much and to do that which best stirs you to love and serve.” This tradition and call lives on because of her. Her book Interior Castle remains a popular guide for people seeking to go deeper in their spiritual journey with God. Some of her writings have been set to music and when we offered Taize here, we often sang a chant using Teresa’s words.

I doubt that she felt like she was doing something “special” and that people would look to her almost 600 years later as a saint in the church. She was not perfect. She made mistakes. She was human.

That’s the thing about saints. I think saints are ordinary people living out their faith and life who become examples to us of how to live and be in the world. They are the people that teach us and encourage us in their living and after they have gone. Some saints are people we have never met but admire or draw inspiration from like Teresa of Avila.

Most saints are people we have known and loved and looked up to. Maybe we can’t see them, but their presence is still around us cheering us on, reminding us to keep going, to keep being the hands, eyes, voice, feet and body of Christ serving the world. Whether they lived thousands or hundreds of years ago or whether they died in the past year or at some point in your life, give thanks to the saints who have touched you and continue to teach you. Keep talking to them and listening to their voice urging you on.

Remember what your saint or saints have given you, have taught you. What part of their legacy still lives on in you? From my mother, I carry on her love of baking. Each time I make her banana bread recipe or make a pie I think of her. From my father I carry his love of the land and nature. His passion was farming but there wasn’t enough money in that for him to support a family. But I look to his example of following my passion to see where it will take me. And his generosity in sharing extra vegetables with families in need or not overcharging his customers shows up in my business and ministry regularly. My grandmother and I had tea parties together when I was a child. And tea is still my favorite beverage. Hot or iced - thanks to grandma. My Uncle Raymond was playful and kind and I always loved playing ball with him. He taught me that you are never too old to play and to be kind to children. Our friend Robb was a mentor in ministry who encouraged me to embrace my gifts wherever they led me. I could go on and on.

When you remember your saints and their legacy, you might cry, you might laugh, or you might be surprised. Whatever happens, trust that your love and grief is real and let your saint’s love and guidance shine through. Thanks be to our Saints!

And now let’s honor them!

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