C.S.Lewis once observed, “How monotonously alike all the great tyrants and conquerors have been: how gloriously different are the saints!”Therese of Lisieux wrote, ” All the saints will be indebted to each other…Who knows the joy we shall experience in beholding the glory of the great saints and knowing that by a secret disposition of Providence we have contributed there unto…and do you not think that on their side the great saints, seeing what they owe to quite little souls, will love them with an incomparable love? Delightful and surprising will be the friendships found there–I am sure of it. The favored companion of an Apostle or a great doctor of the Church will perhaps be a young shepherd lad; and a simple little child may be the intimate friend of a patriarch.”

I wonder, for instance, what sort of interesting conversation the little shepherd lad of Fatima is having with John Paul the Great, or what kind of friendship does Therese of Lisieux have with St Benedict? (If you want to read more about this friendship check out my book, St Benedict and St Therese What does St Francis, God’s little donkey, have to say to St Thomas Aquinas, God’s dumb ox? What is brainy Edith Stein saying to poor old not-too-clever Joseph of Cupertino?

What got me thinking again about the great variety of the saints was the celebration today of All Saints.
I sense them gathered around as a huge extended family from every nation, language and tribe. It is a vision recorded in the Book of Revelation, but it also seems to me a bit like that scene in Lord of the Rings where Bilbo has his final birthday party. All are safely gathered in. There is feasting and rejoicing of the kind you can only find in joyous family gatherings. All Saints Day is as solemn as a royal wedding and as raucous as a children’s party.

I love the way the Holy Spirit introduces us to new brothers and sisters in heaven at just the right time. Living in Europe for twenty five years, and never having been a Catholic in America, I didn’t know much about St Elizabeth Ann Seton, St John Neumann or the North American Jesuit martyrs. Once I got to know them I feel  like they are more friends of the family.As I read the life of St Elizabeth all sorts of connections were made. An American who lived in Europe, but was called back to the USA, a parent called to the religious life, a convert from Anglicanism, a teacher and founder of schools. I hope she is praying for me.

St John Neumann, called to the priesthood in Europe, but no bishop would have him, he comes to the USA and winds up as Bishop of Philadelphia. I grew up in his Diocese it turns out, and I also experienced no bishop on that side of the Atlantic wanting to ordain me. Also involved in education and work with young people, I hope he is praying for me.

St John de Brebeuf and St Isaac Jogues?  I can’t believe their heroism and masculine virtues as they set out into the wilderness of New France and faced the unbelievable savagery of the native American tribal people.

This reveals the most amazing thing about Catholicism. It is, on the one hand, the universal church. It’s power and glory spreads into every land, and stands humbly unbowed in every age. It is a community of faith that stretches back 2,000 years, and spans every language, nation and tribe. At the same time, it is a village, a corner shop, a cosy club and a family reunion.

Time and again, amongst the living I have met a new Catholic in a new land or a new place who knows someone I know on the other side of the globe. They’ve read the same book or been to the same place or had the same experience. Do you see the underlying unity in a church where a Polish Pope in Rome embraced an Albanian nun who lived in worked in India? John Paul and Mother Theresa were family.

The same is true in our life with the saints. They may be dead here and alive in heaven, but when you meet them and read their life and get to know them, they are instant brothers and sisters.

“What!” we cry with instant recognition, “you too? Why I thought no one else went through that sorrow or experienced that joy!”

“Can it be?” we say with astonishment, “that this child in France a hundred years ago thought these same thoughts and felt these same great emotions? or this hermit in a cave in Egypt sang with the same joy and wept the same tears?

There is no other way of expressing it except to say that our life with the saints is all at once as homely and family as Bilbo’s eleventy eleventh birthday party and as incredibly rapturous as the eternal singing of the stars.

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