Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.
1 John 3: 2-3
Often on the Feast of All Saints we take time to think of the saints whom we have known in our lives. For me, I always begin with my grandmother who in the earliest years of my life provided a presence that held me in safety and love when my development most required that holding. She was not a “churched” person, yet I believe she planted in me the seeds of contemplation. So extraordinary was the sense of presence when I was with her, being in and doing the most ordinary and mundane of daily experiences, that when I am truly quiet I am once again with her as we shell peas on the front porch or rest together in the afternoon.
Although my experience of my father was much more complex and even conflictual, in the later years of life I have come to recognize how much he taught me about generosity and especially about doing one’s best to care despite our limits, sufferings, and failings. When I was a boy, it was those limits and those weaknesses of his that permeated by understanding of him. As an adult, however, I have come to see the nobility and greatness in his efforts to overcome his addictions and, probably, his depressiveness in doing all he could for us. I took for granted as a child and adolescent how he was always on my side and was always trying to do things for me — and for my mother and others. On his last morning at home, despite his being so weak from the cancer that had now invaded much of his body, he struggled to make coffee for my mother. It was in this act that I realized that this was the way of his whole life, giving all he could even when it was not easy for him.
Another saint in my pantheon is Dr. Charles Maes, teacher, mentor, and therapist. Chuck, as we called him, had a finely tuned gift for presence, listening, and walking with another. He could hear so much more than I thought I was saying, and he could gently but challengingly, summon to life all that was deeper and truer in me. As teacher, he remains alive in me to this day whenever, by the grace of God, I am able to serve the unfolding of another person. At significant moments in my work, I truly feel that it is Chuck who is acting within me.
In the social and political sphere, Dag Hammarskjold has always been a saint to me. It was as a high school student that I first saw him on television, refusing to resign as Secretary General of the United Nations, despite the pressures from the “great powers” to which he was continually subject. Later on I read Markings, which is in many ways his spiritual autobiography. I then discovered something of the deep loneliness of his life, but also of the profound sense of vocation. I also learned that it was the great medieval mystical tradition that was the foundation of his spiritual life, his generosity, and his courage. The extent of his strength and courage was a continual call to me, especially in my tendency toward appeasement of and conformity to others.
Then, there are the living saints among whom I live and work, and whom I love. Through every truly close friend and colleague I experience that summons that I heard from my grandmother, my father, Chuck Maes, and, from a distance, Dag Hammarskjold to live out and to give away the unique image of God that I am called to be. Most of my daily bread, in this sense, comes from those friends who share the communion of saints with me and are both the fount and the object of my love.
When we reflect on those who are and have been saints for us, we recognize that what they all have in common is that we experienced love from them, both love directed toward us but also their love for the world, for life, and so for God. The saints who have affected us have done so because they have been for us teachers of love. Our earliest saints and teachers were those who communicated to us unconditional love, a love that manifested by their total presence to and for us. As we began to grow and intuit our own call to be for others and the world, our teachers were those who summoned out of us the courage and generosity to dare to love the world in our own most unique way, to live out the unique call, task, and mission to the world that is ours. And then, the saints become for us companions on the way. There are those who walk with us, as we with them, on the road of discipleship, in our life of constant searching for how we and they are being called to give ourselves away for the deep hunger of the world.
Richard Rohr reminds us that “Love is one shared reality, and our common name for that one shared reality is God.” The saints we have known are those who have shown us an aspect of the face of God, an aspect that is reflected in our love for each other. As Rohr tells us, we call that shared reality of love “God.” Yet, as the 1st letter of John tells us, all of what we are to be, and all of who God really is, remains mysterious to us. When our call is fulfilled, then we shall be like God, for we shall see God as God truly is.
Day by day, the face of God is being manifest to us. As St. Paul reminds us, “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (1 Cor. 13;12) We are fully known, even now, to God. But we do not know ourselves as we are known. It is in the face of, the encounter with, the saints of our lives, past and present, that we come to see, little by little, ourselves, and so God, more clearly. To be schooled in love through those saints who are our teachers is to come to know ever more clearly ourselves as we are known, and so to bring God, as God is, more fully into focus in our lives.
God is always given, incarnate in every moment and present to those who know how to be present themselves. It is that simple and that difficult. To be present in prayer can be like the experience of being loved at a deep level. I hope you have felt such intimacy alone with God. I promise it is available to you. Maybe a lot of us just need to be told that this divine intimacy is what we should expect and seek. We’re afraid to ask for it; we’re afraid to seek it. It feels presumptuous. We can’t trust that such a love exists—and for us. But it does. And I just told you.
Often the imagery used to illustrate the human-divine relationship is erotic, because it is the only adequate language to describe the in-depth contemplative experience. I have often wondered why God would give us such a strong and constant fascination with one another’s image, form, and face. Why? I think it’s because all human loves are an increasingly demanding school preparing us for an infinite divine love.
Today we recognize this school as the only real training ground for “All the Saints,” and it can never be limited to those who have fully graduated. As the entire New Testament does, we must apply the word “saints” to all of us who are in kindergarten, primary school, middle school, high school, college, and doing graduate studies. Love is one shared reality, and our common name for that one shared reality is “God” (see 1 John 4:7-21).
Richard Rohr, OFM, Daily Meditation, November 1, 2018