by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
October 30, 2022 — Appropriately, we begin November, the liturgical month of remembrance, with All Saints Day. It is a moment when we acknowledge the faith filled heroes and heroines who have shone in their lifetime and remain as beacons for us who come after them.
We remember especially the saints nearer to our time in history: Oscar Romero (d. 1980), Sister Marianne Cope of Molokai (d. 1918), Stanley Rother (d. 1984), contemporary women and men now officially canonized as saints in the Catholic Church. They are witnesses to the reality of sainthood in modern times.
We also recognize other saints such as Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and the long list of holy Protestant women who strove successfully for their emancipation in the 19th and 20th centuries. Our prayers are for the day when they too will be included in the Catholic canon of saints.
The Catholic imagination also celebrates thousands of unsung and often unknown saints. They come to mind when we say “ALL Saints,” the “cloud of witnesses” mentioned by St. Paul in his letter to the Hebrews. In a certain way they are closer to us precisely because they are anonymous. One such group is the women and men catechetics in San Salvador who nurtured the faith of their people when it was considered a capital crime by powerful forces which put thousands of them to death.
All Saints Day also calls us to consider our own vocation to holiness. As Pope Francis said, referring to this feast day: “It reminds us of the personal and universal vocation to holiness, and proposes sure models for this journey, that each person walks in a unique way, an unrepeatable way.”
We find wisdom here and in what the pope goes on to say about sanctity: “The important thing is that each believer discern his or her own path, that they bring out the very best in themselves, the most personal gifts that God has placed in their hearts, rather than hopelessly trying to imitate something not meant for them… Each one has their own personality and develops their own life of holiness according to their own personality, and each one of us can do it.”
Then the pope offers some practical advice for those who believe that the notion of holiness is beyond us, relegated to “real saints”: “Holiness does not come from following rigid rules that eliminates that freedom of the Spirit that Christ gives us; do not be afraid of holiness. It will take away none of your energy, vitality or joy; you will become what the Father had in mind when he created you and you will be faithful to your deepest self.”
A final thought especially relevant for our times. We increasingly recognize that “a life well lived” (holiness) must include ongoing awareness of the world of pain, violence and inhuman conditions that surround us. Our response comes through direct service and advocacy – charity and demanding justice. Saints today are considered as such not so much for their adherence to a particular faith tradition but for their dedication to work for God’s reign of justice, peace and care for creation. This is the vocation of Pax Christi and it is holy.
Stories often underscore thoughts like these. A brother Franciscan of mine ministers in one of the poorest barrios of the sprawling city of Lima, Peru. In the first terrible months of COVID, when that impoverished country lacked even oxygen tanks for the dying, a victim of the pandemic asked this pastor if he could be buried in the brown habit. The man had worked faithfully with the friars for more than 50 years and identified himself proudly as a Franciscan. My brother immediately took off his robe and gave it to the parishioner.
“I was naked and you clothed me.” Holiness!
Joe Nangle OFM is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace. As a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., he is dedicated to simple living and social change. Joe also serves as the Pastoral Associate for the Latino community at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Arlington, Virginia.
The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles, California displays a stunning mural of saints from dozens of ethnic groups — all groups found in the Los Angeles Archdiocese.