Celebrating All Saints (Graciously!)

Are you a saint? Have you known one? Hold those questions in mind.

I once led a bereavement group, a refuge for people traumatized by loss. Grief is the most painful and powerful set of human emotions, but this diverse group of folks discovered a sublime truth: sharing our stories helps us triumph on our difficult journeys. We began those weekly gatherings by reciting these words, “When someone we love becomes a memory, that memory becomes a treasure!”

All Saints Day and Dia de los Muertos are upon us. It’s a perfect time to pause and reflect on those we have lost, to cherish their legacies.

As we do, let’s remember the definition of “saint” in the Christian faith. Not many of us would claim this title. We reserve it for those who show moral purity, passionate love, or superhuman sacrifice. They are people of legends and icons. Their examples seem so removed from our mundane lives. We struggle with doubts and cravings, pride and prejudice. We cling to material things. No, we are not saints.

But this is the world’s viewpoint, not Heaven’s. God’s overriding value, still radiating through Christ, is GRACE. It’s a gift of loving acceptance that none of us deserve and none of us can earn. When we receive its life-changing power, we become part of the Communion of Saints.

There are no perfect people; we are ALL unfinished works of human art. This is true with even the most saintly in history. A careful scrutiny of their lives shows that they, too, wrestled with personal demons like the rest of us.

This is why grace offers a healing way to view those we’ve lost. It helps us embrace the totality of their heritage. We learn from their admirable traits and accept their faults with compassion. We gain wisdom from their failures as well as successes.

1358 miles from my home office is a quiet cul-de-sac at Forest Lawn Cemetery, Glendale, California. Many times I have parked at the curb, then walked across an expanse of mown grass to stand before two headstones placed side by side. They belong to my paternal grandparents. Three words, a final epitaph, are chiseled in granite across them: “Ambassadors for Christ.”

In many ways this describes my grandparents perfectly. Their faith directed their actions in visible ways. After the Watts Riots, a racial explosion in 1965, they walked with a multiethnic group through inner city Los Angeles, braving potential violence to witness for unity. They were quick to help underdogs throughout their life. They modeled prayer and devotion to Christian principles.

But their flaws were also apparent. My grandfather rarely showed physical warmth. My grandmother held on to bitterness towards people who wronged her. She was also a hypochondriac. You hesitated to get her started by asking, “How are you?”

Like all of us, my grandparents were a mix of goodness and error. But seen through the eyes of grace, they were saints. When I celebrate them this way, I feel God’s love more strongly.

So let’s remember ALL our saints, past and present. Let’s do so graciously!

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