Today is not only the twenty second Sunday after Pentecost but it is All Saints Day. When I first had some idea of the definition, the word saints conveyed particularly holy people, the sort of people who had halos around their heads in the stained glass windows and some old pictures. From about 600 AD my image fit with much Christian understanding. Saints were people who distinguished themselves in a great way, by their deaths, heroic and healing actions, or virtue. Disciples like Peter and Paul, along with Jesus' mother Mary come quickly to mind for many. .
For centuries the Roman Catholic Church has had All Saints Day to commemorate such persons. The following day is All Souls Day, remembering all who have died in the Christian faith. A great gift of the Reformation was moving back toward the original usage and understanding of the Bible that saints are people who heed the call to holy, religious living in their daily affairs. Even Protestants tend to hold certain people as Saints with a capital S. I mentioned two last Sunday: Martin Luther and John Wesley.
When I look at my own life there are great figures who have shed significant light on my thinking and behavior at various times. Biblical insights conveyed by the prophet Jeremiah, our Savior Jesus, and the apostles John and Paul had key places. Historical figures, Martin Luther, Lew Wallace, and John Wesley had impacts. More recent Christians like Billy Graham, Henri Nouen, Mother Teresa, and even the Christian entertainer Michael Card have had important influence.
Jesus speaks of the sainthood in the little known people who have influenced other family members, persons in their neighborhoods, and people at work. Many of them may be unaware of the impact they have had on a person's life.
One of the early church leaders recognized in his life time and through the present is St. Augustine. He lived from 354-430 AD. He wrote two seminal worka, that are still read. He wrote the very personal Confessions about his journey to faith in Jesus Christ. He wrote the great defense of Christianity The City of God when the Roman Empire was shrinking and coming to beginning to be successfully assaulted by less refined invaders. Martin Luther was an Augustinian Canon when a monk and was greatly influenced by St. Augustine.
Before Augustine became a Christian, his path to Christ really began with an unnamed friend who never knew the disquiet in Augustine's spirit he stirred that eventually led to Jesus Christ.
As a teen and young man Augustine rejected his parents Christianity. He embraced Manicheism. It posited a dual nature of good and evil within each person. The ultimate drawback was the good was passive and required an active asceticism to bring it to the fore. It enabled one to be too comfortable with the selfish half, what feels good at the moment.
Augustine's unnamed friend was a Manichean. Augustine writes, "he wandered, in his soul, along with me; and my soul could do nothing without him....we depended too much on each other." His friend became gravely ill and his Christian family baptized him while he was unconscious. Augustine was confident his friend would join him in laughing off the ceremony. Later his friend regained consciousness and "reacted as if I were his deadly enemy, and in a sudden and unexpected show of independence, warned me that I should stop this talk if I wished to remain his friend." A few days later the friend died.
His death and acceptance of Christian faith shook Augustine at the time. He truly fled his home town and returned to the place of his formal education Carthage. There he began to form a career which would eventually lead to Rome, then Milan and St. Ambrose. This unnamed friend's death began rounds of searching for something deeper while he was advancing as a rhetorician, teacher, and working toward an important place in the civil administration of the Roman Empire. He paid attention to Ambrose, enjoying his sermons and wisdom. Eventually he listened to a child's play song "Take and read." He read scripture and was grabbed by Christ.
Similar impacts continue. Awhile back I have recalled one of my earlier influences, Mrs. Betty Wilkins. She was the junior high age Sunday school teacher when my father was stationed at the Naval Base in Subic Bay, Republic of the Philippines in 1967 and 68. She was a person who provided acceptance as I made the awkward transition from life near the grandparents in Phoenix Arizona to a United States Naval Base during the height of the Vietnam War. Mrs. Wilkins had a way of connecting the Bible to life issues of sixth and seventh graders. She stands out for teaching me to treat a then newer boy to the base, Scott, who I had come to dislike, differently. He had come to Christ and she encouraged me to see him as a brother in faith. I did not become his Silas, being a strong advocate. I shifted from ugly rival to seeing him more as fellow seeking another way Jesus' offered. I have never seen her since Subic Bay. She remains a positive personal historical touchstone in the life task of seeing Christ in more people and beginning internalizing the commands linking love of God and love of neighbor.
I am sure we could sit down and exchange stories of one another's Augustine's unnamed friend and the Mrs. Wilkins who have touched our lives. We could have quite an All Saints Day Adult class so sharing otherwise relatively unknown faith heroes and heroines in life.
This All Saints enjoy the link you have with your spiritual fathers and mothers who have blessed your walk with and greater understanding of Jesus Christ. Give thanks how they have brought you closer to the Resurrection and the Life. AMEN.