November 2013

Remembering our family saints

In November the Church reminds us that each person’s life story doesn’t just begin at conception and end at death, but starts before they are born and goes on into eternity, writes Judith Scully.

BY Judith Scully

We used to live in a house with an under-house storage area we called the dungeon. Among all the legacy items and ‘stuff’ we had inherited or couldn’t bear to throw out, were several large plastic crates that held journals, tapes and slides covering at least 50 years of my father’s long life. Every time I handled one of the journals with its difficult-to-decipher writing, I saw my father, sitting at the kitchen table writing about his day in one of the exercise books he bought at a two dollar shop.

So when the SOLD sign went up on that house and we moved to our ‘home among the gum trees’, all that memorabilia survived the sifting and sorting, packing and throwing out, and came with us.

Most homes have a sprinkling of reminders of other times, memorabilia from family who have died. It might be china or a christening gown, jewellery, a recipe book or tools. Such items are precious, tangible reminders of the person who owned them.

Memories are tangled things, sad and lovely.

I remember my husband who loved golf and his brother, John, who drove a train and conducted the parish choir. Both died far too young, both moved slowly into death with the same loving faith that characterised their whole lives. A couple of years ago John’s wife died, accepting death with a similar quiet graciousness.

I remember an aunt who devoted her life to looking after her widowed mother and unmarried brothers. Her Methodist faith was deep and strong for the whole of her 95 years.

I remember Kate, the long-anticipated and much-loved baby who knew nothing about Jesus, and whom God gathered up into eternal love before she could walk or talk.

None of these will have a church named after them, or be mentioned in the Litany of the Saints, but the Church recognises each of them on the feast of All Saints (November 1).

When I was young the feast of All Saints was like a roll call of every woman, man and child (not many of them) who had Saint tacked on the front of their name. They all seemed to be much the same: they lived a long time ago, they either died as martyrs or lived what seemed to me to be very uncomfortable lives. Most were priests, bishops or nuns who were known by the place they lived in.

All up, they didn’t seem to have had much fun or even anything in common with the people I was familiar with. Then and there, I decided that sainthood was something that was out of the reach of ordinary people.

Now I know differently. For every Francis of Assisi and Teresa of Avila there are thousands of unknown and long forgotten mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, friends, co-workers, neighbours, nurses, supermarket employees and other individuals in various occupations and countries, who all lived prayerful lives, imbued with the Gospel values of Jesus Christ.

The Apostle’s Creed says this very simply: “I believe in the communion of saints”. Suddenly my family story isn’t all there is. In some wonderful God-way I am linked with every person who ever linked their lives to God, whatever their race or culture, whether they died today or thousands of years ago.

There’s an ad which says: “When the going gets tough, the tough get going”. If anything is tough, it’s living Christian values day in and day out. If we would use it, there’s wonderful support to be found in all those people who have “been there, done that”, especially our family saints with whom our hearts beat as one.

Our Church does November well with invitations and opportunities to pray for and to our loved ones who have died. We are reminded that each person’s life story doesn’t just begin at conception and end at death, but starts before they are born and goes on into eternity. With God, there is no time. Our prayers for those who have died and been gathered up into eternity contribute to their bliss of everlasting life with God.

November invites us to pray to and for all the saints – both the canonised and the uncanonised – asking them to help us to live our lives with God in faithfulness, knowing that one day, we too, will be numbered among all the saints.

Judith Scully

Judith Scully is a retired pastoral associate. She lives among the gumtrees in Warrandyte Victoria, where she posts on her website WORDS from the Edge Her first book, "A Gentle Unfolding", will be published in August 2018.

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