Chapter Talk – 32nd Sunday of the Year – November 6, 2022
We just celebrated All Saints. It is a profound solemnity of the Church. Each year our first Vespers opens the solemnity of All Saints with this amazing text from St. Symeon the New Theologian: “The saints in each generation, joined together to those who have gone before and filled them with light, become a golden chain, in which each saint is a separate link, united to the next by faith and works and love. So, in the one God they form a single chain which cannot quickly be broken”. Each one linked in a chain, a chain of faith, of unrequited love, of self-gift given to God and for us. All these saints from centuries past to this day, linked together in a living chain that nothing can break, for love lived is stronger than death. This celebration and this text brought back to me the notion of “communion of saints”. It has struck me for some time that this image and its concomitant reality were central to the monastic theology of Fr. Christian de Chergé, the Superior of the Atlas community in Algeria, where he and his brothers were kidnapped and killed. I have often wondered why ‘communion of saints’, was so important to his monastic life. In the Apostle’s Creed we profess: “I believe in the communion of saints”. What are we believing in? And, as important, how are we, the ‘living’, participating in the communion of saints?
For a brief background comment: Fr. Kenan Osborne in an exposé on this ‘article’ of the Apostle’s Creed commented that neither history, contemporary theologians, nor the magisterium have given a precise definition (The New Dictionary of Theology, p.216). The one thing Fr. Osborne emphasized is that this article of the Creed, ‘communion of saints’, is rooted in a “solid Christological base” (p.216). Keeping in mind this Christological base, we can better understand what is at the heart of this article of our faith. With Christ’s incarnation the ‘eternal’ is part of our human reality, not separated from anything of the created world….Always, the ‘eternal’ of God is present, is ‘all in all’.
There is an excellent essay by Albert Béguin titled “Peguy and the Communion of Saints” (Cross Currents, summer, 1957). Charles Peguy was a French poet and philosopher; others have called him a poetic theologian. One of the “root points” of Peguy’s faith is in his words the following: “The Christian sees himself as beneath the glance of innumerable earlier generations since the time of Christ. He sees himself as under the protection of innumerable earlier saints…Or rather, the Christian sees himself in the present, in the past, in the future; for he sees himself in a genuine, a real eternity. The Christian regards himself as under the protection…of all the past saints, all together, and together with all the saints of the present, and together with all the saints to come. That indeed is what is called the communion of saints” (p.196). Can we as well hold this in heart and mind as essential to our Christian faith: that we are under the protection of the saints, past, present and future. Through, with, and in Christ, the eternal encircles all we do, and this is particularly evoked, manifested through the lives of the saints. “Through the Incarnation, the abyss between eternity and time has for once been broken” (p.199).
Following on this same line of thought, Christian de Chergé describes his understanding of ‘Church’ in this poignant phrase: as the “incarnation of the mystery of the communion of saints” (A Theology of Hope, Christian Salenson, p.106). Further he referred to the Church as “continuous incarnation” (p.106). This is what the saints make real for us: the gospel way. They embody the mind and heart of Christ; they continue to build up the body of Christ. We are recipients, linked to their lives, supported by them now. This golden chain of incarnate life weaves in and through our lives, linked by a living faith, linked by the mystery of lives lived fully, loving to the end.
What if, for this month of November, we would choose a saint to walk with us, to support us in whatever way we may need this. We could take time to read about him or her; we could take something they have said as a support in our prayer and daily activities. The eternal is brought close to us through the lives of the saints…We are not separate from this golden chain of witnesses. The axis of time and the axis of the eternal have converged through the incarnation. Thus, their witness is very much a living reality right now…We can reach out our hand to a saint who is already extending his or her hand to us and thus in the eternal moment of time, of this now moment, we are joined to the communion of saints, we are joined to this golden chain of Christ’s living body.
Sr. Kathy DeVico, Abbess