All Saints and All Souls: All Saints Day 2018


November is a month of remembrance. Fall has settled in and our thoughts are turning to the end of another calendar 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.

The Feast of All Saints’ is the day on which we celebrate all the saints, known and unknown. 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. Recent pontiffs have increased the number of recognized saints. There is a variety of named saints.

They 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.

Robert Ellsburg, a Catholic writer and associate of Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker movement, explains, “Each saint 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 because of their imperfections, searching, struggles, doubts, unique personalities, and daily efforts that we can relate to certain saints. That is 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. St. Isidore of Seville is 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.

St. Aloysius Gonzaga is the patron of AIDS patients and caregivers. 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 coffeehouses.

And so on! If you find yourself online and bored, check out the lengthy list of patron saints that you can find at 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 knows precisely what we struggle with.

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.

  • John Montague
    Posted at 07:29h, 01 November Reply

    One of the first people I want to meet after I die is Father John Veltri.

  • Peter Bisson, SJ
    Posted at 07:58h, 01 November Reply

    Thank you Philip!

  • Jim Radde
    Posted at 14:49h, 01 November Reply

    Happy feast Philip.

  • Valerie Forrest
    Posted at 17:55h, 01 November Reply

    I really enjoyed reading this particularly the point that you make that the saints likely aren’t perfect. Having read many of their stories I have found a few to be rather “odd” but your article puts their foibles in perspective for me. Thank you.

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