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Monday, January 31, 2011

The Communion of Saints

[homily from All Saints, 2009]

          The feast of All Saints was on a Sunday this year, and I was asked to preach at St. Francis Church here in Quincy.

          St. Francis is a church with life-size statues on each of the ten or so pillars that line the center of the church. The physical reality of being surrounded by those saints became the basis of my reflections on the communion of saints.

          A few years ago the parish had produced a small booklet describing the art work of the church, including the statues. I consulted the booklet to see if I could get any ideas from the stories of the saints who were represented by the statues. One story got my attention. The last statue on the south side of the church was a statue of St. Angela Merici, and the statue was put there in 1950 to honor a Sister Angela Merici for her 50 years of teaching in St. Francis School.

          It was fun to ask the congregation if they knew where the statue of St. Angela Merici was in the church. Then to ask them if they knew the story of how the statue got there. And the story of Sister Angela Merici (noting that some of the people in church probably had her in school). And to ask how many knew the story of St. Angela Merici, how she was the first person to gather women together into an order dedicated specifically to the education of girls. Did they know the story of the group that St. Angela founded, a group named the “Ursulines,” after St. Ursala? Did they know the story of St. Ursala, who was supposed to have been a woman martyred along with 11,000 virgins somewhere around 400 A.D.?

          As I thought of all the interweaving of these stories, the best metaphor I could think of to describe them was a bird’s nest. I seem to recall electricians describing some sloppy wiring jobs as a bird’s nest of wires. The communion of saints is like a bird’s nest of stories, all woven together. My story is woven into it, along with the stories of all the people who have been part of the story of Jesus down through the centuries.

          Thinking about bird’s nests got me to thinking about a robin’s nest that I took off a pillar at Holy Cross Friary where I live a couple of years ago. I was amazed at how solid the nest was. I could have used it like a Frisbee. I wondered how it held together so solidly. Where did the bird get the glue to hold twigs together so solidly? The only answer I could think of was that the bird somehow coughed up the glue that made the nest possible. The image was gross, but I couldn’t see any other alternative.

          The grossness of the image made me think of the gross things that surround our human stories, and of the forgiveness that redeems the gross things. I ended up with this description of the communion of saints:

          The communion of saints is a bird’s nest of our stories woven together by
          the glue of forgiveness.

          I have written elsewhere about how my soul can be thought of as my story, and about how God keeps all of our stories even when the rest of us forget them, and how God will one day tell our stories in the most loving way possible in that great event which we call the Last Judgment. After that God will rejoin our stories to physical matter in the “resurrection of the body” and set us on a course of sharing our stories with one another with all the time in the world (actually, all the time in eternity) to go into detail. And to share stories with the people we have hurt, an operation which is for me the most meaningful way to think about purgatory.

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