For all the saints, who from their labors rest,
Who thee, by faith, before the world confessed.
Thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest. Alleluia, Alleluia!
- William W. How
Lost in the clamor of Halloween, All Saints Day hardly gets more than a passing nod. Though part of the church calendar for centuries, and still sparsely celebrated on or near Nov. 1, the day once set aside to honor the saintly among us now or in the past is rarely observed. But however insignificant we may consider the day, sainthood is very much a part of all our lives.
Hundreds of places, in-cluding dozens of American cities - St. Augustine, St. Louis, St. Paul, and those of Spanish origin with the prefix San - are named for saints.
Georgias St. Simons Island, Augustas St. Joseph Hospital, and many schools and churches also have the word saint before their names. And holidays like St. Patricks Day and St. Valentines Day owe their existence to some person considered fine enough to have become a saint.
Today we think of a saint as a person who is holy or outstanding in some way, or an ordinary person with a particular characteristic we admire. Hence, to us, there is a similarity between the anticipated sainthood of the late Mother Teresa and the kindly neighbor who tends us when we are ill. We acknowledge that sainthood still exists, even if the special day set aside in their honor all but escapes our attention.
Like other words in the evolution of language, saint has undergone a few change. In New Testament times a saint was a baptized follower of Jesus Christ.
The letters of Paul, for example, often began with a greeting to the saints:
To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints... (Romans 1:7);
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus... to the church of God in Corinth together with all the saints... (2 Corinthians 1:1); and,
To all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi... (Philippians 1:1).
Later the phrase, the communion of saints, in such statements as The Apostles Creed, referred to all members of the church, living or dead. Still later the term became more specific, identifying those who, because of their belief in Jesus Christ, died a heroic death, suffered greatly for their faith, or lived sacrificially for God and mankind.
Just as the 16th-century Protestant Reformation ushered in a church correction, earlier church fathers established the system of canonization to counteract the practice of elevating loosely-qualified Christians to sainthood. It wasnt uncommon around 1000 A.D. for cults or other quasi-Christian groups to lift a favorite individual to a point of worship equal to or above the level of Christ. That Pope John Paul II has refused to consider canonizing Mother Teresa before the waiting period has elapsed is a tribute to his high view of sainthood.
Years ago, when our family lived on a small U.S. military post northeast of Frankfurt, Ger-many, our apartment was near the liveliest spot in town, the NCO Club. Every Saturday night, the song we tried to ignore as we were falling asleep was always, When the Saints Go Marching In.
Somehow I dont think our soldiers and their guests were holding a prayer meeting, but there is a connection. Saints have marched heroically and served like soldiers throughout history, and its certain others will join that noble throng. Both the word we use so glibly, and the saints we forget to acknowledge are here to stay.
O may thy soldiers, faithful, true, and bold,
Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old;
And win with them the victors crown of gold. Alleluia, Alleluia!
Perhaps we should also sing:
O Lord, I want to be in that number, when the saints go marching in."
(Barbara Seaborn is a local free-lance writer. E-mail comments to seabara@ aol.com.)
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