November 1 is “All Saints Day” — for centuries, a day to honor the saints and martyrs of the Catholic Church. The stories and legends of the official saints are fascinating to hear and remember. But there are two categories of saints that I want to explore with you: “Superstar Saints” and “Everyday Saints.”
The town I live in is named after Saint Barbara – a perfect example of a “Superstar Saint.”
The original story concerned a young woman named Barbara, born in the third century. Her rich pagan father kept her locked up in a tower to protect her. But she secretly became a Christian, and rejected a marriage offer he had arranged. He went on a journey, and when he returned, she told him about her new faith. He drew his sword to kill her, but her powerful prayers transported her to a mountainside where two shepherds kept their flocks. One of the shepherds kept her presence a secret but the other betrayed her. She was taken before the local prefect and tortured daily, but the wounds healed miraculously by the next morning. Finally, her father beheaded her. On his way home, he was struck by lightning and consumed by flames.
Over time, her association with lightning and fire led to her becoming the patron saint of artillerymen, gunsmiths, and anyone working with explosives, including miners and geologists.
Quite a story! Quite a legacy! The fact that Saint Barbara’s story contains details that are a bit hard to believe led her to be demoted in 1969 from the “General Roman Calendar.” But she remains a memorable example of the “Superstar Saints” of the Western tradition.
There is another kind of “saint” that goes back to the early Christian communities. In Romans 12, Saint Paul identifies specific character traits of “Everyday Saints.” Here’s a sample, translated into contemporary language by Eugene Peterson:
- “Let’s just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we aren’t.”
- “If you’re put in charge, don’t manipulate.”
- “If you work with the disadvantaged, don’t let yourself get irritated with them or depressed by them. Keep a smile on your face.”
- “Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it.”
- “Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder.”
- “Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down.”
- “Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody.”
In essence, “Everyday Saints” are people who live their life with sincerity, humility, integrity, and a constant focus on serving others.
I have not personally known any “Superstar Saints.” But I’ve known quite a few “Everyday Saints”:
- Dorothy, from my Santa Paula congregation. She dressed like the 1940s and may not have always sang in tune. But each year she would raise close to $10,000 for the annual walk to end world hunger – more, by far, than anyone else in town.
- George, a retired handyman in Wapato, Washington. He spent his days driving around town in his old pickup with his dog Taffy, doing household repairs for people who could not afford to hire professionals.
- Thelma, in my Goleta Congregation. She never wanted to be on committees or speak in public, but over the years she knit hundreds of afghans for young unmarried mothers and families in need.
- Joe, a long-time volunteer at Hospice of Santa Barbara. Joe was a Navy Vet and retired Maytag repairman. He lost his wife to illness and his son to suicide. For more than 30 years, he volunteered his time to be with people facing death and grief. We called him “St. Joseph.”
- The housekeepers at La Casa de Maria Retreat Center where I served as Director. They believed their job was not just making beds and washing towels but caring for people who came seeking healing and hope. Their energy blessed each room in which they worked.
- An older Iranian woman from the local Islamic Society I met during a year-long interfaith project. She was grateful to have a chance to prove Muslims are decent people and showed up at every event asking what she could do to help.
- And I think of the countless people I’ve seen in my 40-year career who work as aides, CNAs, LVNs and caretakers in nursing homes, hospitals, dementia care facilities and private homes. English may not be their first language, but they provide love, respect, and dignity to each person they encounter.
This “All Saints Day” I encourage us all to look around our neighborhood, workplace and community and take time to be grateful for the Everyday Saints in our midst. They may not create fireworks as they go about their lives, but they bless us all in ways that are lasting and true.