The story is told from India about a woman who came with her young son to have a conversation with Mahatma Gandhi. This mother was concerned about her son’s attraction to sweets: he ate them all the time and they were rotting his teeth and ruining his health, she said. Would Gandhi speak with her son, she asked? Gandhi paused to consider the request, and then said, yes, he would… in four days’ time. The days passed and again the mother appeared at Gandhi’s home, this time with her nine-year old son. Gandhi asked the mother if he could speak with the boy alone. He invited the boy to sit down with him on the floor of his porch. Gandhi looked into the boys’ eyes and said that he must stop eating sweets: they were rotting his teeth and ruining his health. Did he understand? The boy said, yes. Gandhi motioned to the boy that they should stand. He thanked the boy for coming and sent him on his way home, waving good-bye to the mother who was now standing some distance away. The conversation had lasted less than one minute. Some days later the mother alone came back to Gandhi saying that she wanted to thank him: her son had indeed stopped eating sweets, completely. She had just one more question, please. She was wondering why Gandhi had asked to wait four days to have this ever-so-brief conversation with her son? Gandhi replied: “I first had to give up sweets.” To this young boy (and to his mother) Gandhi was a hero. We all need heroes to look up to.
As different as we all are here – and as different as we are, one from another, across our nation and throughout the world – different in terms of age, in terms of our cultural and ethnic and religious background, in terms of our age, our gender, our abilities, our vocation, our likes and dislikes – one of the things we all have in common is a need for heroes, for models and mentors, for people to look up to and emulate. It’s an innate need to be able to look into the face of another person, to watch them, to see how they go about thinking and talking, living and working, to remember them after they have died, and to be able to say to ourselves, “when I grow up, I want to become like her, I want to become like him….” However old we are, we never grow out of this need for heroes.
Today, in the calendar of the church, we’re reminded of the heroes of our faith, the followers of Jesus whom the church has come to call “saints,” holy ones. The saints of the church are women and men , the memory of whose life and witness helps make our own life seem passable and possible. The saints are a great cloud of heroic witnesses, bright lights, “like stars appearing,” to enlighten the eyes of our heart and enlighten the path ahead especially during the dark nights for our soul.
Why might you be interested to a particular saint? Why are you drawn to a particular hero or heroes of our faith? Your soul’s attraction to a particular saints may be something about the time in which they lived, what they faced, how they worked, what they thought or wrote or said, how they prayed, how they survived and thrived, how they suffered… There are reasons why we’re attracted to particular people, and that is also true, why we may be attracted to particular saints. That being so, it’s two-sided, surely. We may be attracted to a particular saint or two, in part, because they are attracted to us.
When we confess our faith, following the words of the Apostles’ Creed, we affirm our belief “in the communion of saints.” There’s something real about communication between this world and the world to come, a kind of tender-loving bond between the saints above and us souls below that spans the gulf of eternal time. It is not just we who are praying, but we are being prayed for by these heroes of the faith, some of whom, I believe, are attracted to us, individually: these who have our name and have our number and who remember us, that we have the courage, and the joy, and the endurance to find our way and finish the race.
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