All Saints’ Day

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November is a month of remembrance. This is natural, as fall has settled in and our thoughts are turning to the end of another year and the reminiscing that comes with that. Special days such as All Saints’ Day, All Souls’ Day and Remembrance Day all heighten that sense of the significance of reflecting and remembering.

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The Feast of All Saints’ is the day on which we celebrate all the saints, known and unknown. It arose out of the Christian tradition of celebrating the martyrdom of saints on the anniversary of their martyrdom. When martyrdoms increased during the persecutions of the late Roman Empire, local dioceses instituted a common feast day in order to ensure that all martyrs, known and unknown, were properly honoured. It was Pope Gregory III (731-741) who named November 1 as the common date to celebrate the saints, whether martyred or not. This is a day to celebrate all holy men and women, and ask for their prayers and intercession. We honour those who are known and recognized as enlightened souls, but also the unknowns and the misfits.

The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews tells of how we are “surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.” We are very fortunate to have so many witnesses – the Communion of Saints. The saints are not necessarily perfect. As a matter of fact, they likely aren’t perfect. I’ve lived with a few saintly people in my life, and I can certainly attest to the fact that they are not perfect and are not necessarily easy to live with.

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There are as many types of saints as there are people. As Robert Ellsburg, a Catholic writer and associate of Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker movement, explains, “Each one offers a unique glimpse of the face of God; each enlarges our moral imagination; each offers new insights into the meaning and possibilities of human life.” George Bernanos, the author of The Diary of a Country Priest, says “a saint doesn’t live on the interest of his income, or even on his income; he lives on his capital, he gives all his soul.” In other words, a saint shows total dedication to God.

It is precisely from their imperfections, searching, struggles, doubts, unique personalities, and daily efforts that we can relate to certain saints. That’s why so many of us think of certain saints as our patrons, asking them to intercede on our behalf. Many think of St. Anthony when they misplace something. St. Joseph has helped many people to buy or sell a house. Those down on their luck might pray to St. Jude. Did you know that the Vatican named St. Isidore of Seville the patron saint of the Internet? He was an archbishop who was also the first Christian writer to try to compile a summa or encyclopedia of universal knowledge.

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St. Aloysius Gonzaga is the patron of AIDS patients and care-givers. Aloysius died as a young Jesuit in formation while working with victims of the plague. Accountants resort to St. Matthew. Sleepwalkers have St. Dymphna. Lawyers pray to St. Thomas More and lighthouse keepers to St. Venerius. St. Barbara is the patron saint of fireworks and St. Drogo is the patron saint of unattractive people. He is, for some reason, also the patron saint of coffee houses. And so on!

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If you find yourself online and bored, check out the lengthy list of patron saints that you can find here. The background stories of the saints explain why they have been given this task of interceding for us. Whatever their quirks or oddities, it is helpful for us to know that there is a special saint who knew precisely what we struggle with. Now, if only I could find out who the patron is for boredom!

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Editor’s note: A good candidate for patron saint of the bored would be Saint Anthony the Great (251-356), an Egyptian Christian monk who lived in a tomb for some years to overcome the temptation of “boredom, laziness and the phantoms of women,” and thus is known (among other things) as the patron saint of gravediggers.

Philip Shano, SJ has many years of rich and varied experience working with Ignatian spirituality: teaching, writing and using it in his ministry. He resides in the Jesuit community in Pickering, Ontario.

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