Monday, November 1, 2010

All Saints of St. Gertrude's

Today is the Feast of All Saints, and for us a month to remember all the saints of St. Gertrude’s. There are banners hung in the chapel with the names of all our departed sisters. Tonight we will process in statio (lined up two by two) into the chapel and celebrate the feast for another year. We will remember those among us who have departed during this past year and for the past 118 years since our founding.

It is a month when I remember we are indeed surrounded by a great “cloud of witnesses” as the author of Hebrews put it. I read somewhere that the image is meant to refer to a coliseum of cheering fans supporting the athletes competing in the games. The athletes completing their race of faith on earth, the martyrs who gave up their lives for their faith, would be able to see how many people were with them in their struggle.

It is a powerful image as I see the names and remember many of the people who have gone before us at our monastery, women who are still with us in many ways. It is good to remember that all of us indeed are saints. Most of the women whose names are on our banners this month, who are now resting on our hill, weren’t extraordinary by most standards. There are some very holy women, a few who were deeply wounded and difficult, many who lived lives of ordinary hard work and hidden faith. All Saints is a day to remind us of this, that sainthood is perhaps most about perseverance in the midst of ordinary life. It is about enduring in the struggles, continuing in the dailyness of our faith journey. For most of us the journey to sainthood will not go through the route of extraordinary feats of piety, martyrdom or holiness. Our way to sanctification will be the way of the old monk who was asked by a newcomer, “what do you do all day in the monastery? The old monk thought for a while and said, ‘well, we fall down and we get up and we fall down and we get up and we fall down and we get up.’”

The saints of monastic life are the saints of desire. The essence of monastic life is a deep desire for God, a desire that compels some of us to live a different kind of life. It isn’t that we or any of those who have gone before us are any holier, if anything we may need more structure and support to seek God than those who are juggling families, spouses and a life without monastic structure. To be a monk is to simply know that somehow the deep longing for God cannot be assuaged except in a way of life in which faith is the focus, the center, the raison d’etre.

Some of our saints left this life deeply transformed. Some seemed to depart still awaiting the transformation that will happen in eternity. But they are all still with us. The saints of the monastery have left the legacy of their desire for God, their struggle to grow into the full stature of Christ, their faithfulness to the daily joys and frustrations of this way of life. Their spirits and their memories are still with us, they whisper in the corner of our minds, we glimpse them in the fleeting dark corners of the chapel. And we know that they are still there, filling our chapel, our halls, a great cloud cheering us on as we continue our race, upheld by the great cloud of our saints.

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