As we approach All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, Catherine from our Theology team reflects on the inspiration we can take from the example of those who have gone before us.
At this time of year, our thoughts turn to those who have died. The saints, and those ordinary people who were extraordinary to us in their own special way. Those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith. Those whose example we admire, love, and who have taught us many lessons.
This year, the COP26 climate change talks also begin in Glasgow over this time. World leaders will come together to discuss how to tackle the climate emergency, as the destruction of land, oceans and forests is threatening people’s homes and their ability to earn a living.
As we pray for the success of these talks, we also remember those whose lives have already been lost due to the impact of the climate crisis.
The gospel for the solemnity of All Saints features the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12). This blueprint of the type of person we are called to be is both thought provoking and challenging.
How on earth are we supposed to be gentle, merciful, peacemakers, hunger for justice and more in our daily lives? It seems to me like an impossible task.
But as Father Alexander Taylor wrote in our most recent weekly email reflection, which focused on this gospel passage, we can take inspiration from the saints.
Father Alex singled out two saints who particularly show us how to hunger for justice and thirst for what is right. Saint Francis of Assisi who radically changed his life in order to save others. And Saint Mother Teresa, who fought for the dignity of those who were poor, sick, homeless, displaced, forgotten or marginalised by society.
Blessed are those who are persecuted in the cause of uprightness
If I were to choose two saints whose example I find particularly inspirational, the first would have to be Saint Oscar Romero. He was martyred, while saying Mass, because he refused to be silent in the face of injustice.
His death was before I was born, and yet when I travelled to El Salvador with CAFOD, it was so powerful to see how his legacy lives on. It is there in the people of El Salvador, who continue to work towards justice and peace, who stand up for what is right and work tirelessly in their own communities to build a brighter future.
Blessed are the gentle and the pure in heart
The second would be Saint Josephine Bakhita, who I only came to know about fairly recently. Born in Sudan, and kidnapped into slavery as a child, she spent many years in terrifying, brutal conditions. Eventually, she was bought by an Italian diplomat and came to stay with the Canossian sisters, where she came to believe in Jesus. Slavery was illegal in Italy and so she was finally free.
Despite all that had happened to her, she was not angry or bitter. She was known for her gentleness and smile, which had a powerful effect on those around her.
I would love to have both the courage of Saint Romero, and the life-changing gentleness and hope of Saint Josephine Bakhita.
But it is not just those people who are officially canonised by the Church who provide inspiration for us to model our lives on. There are so many people who have died but who touched my life in different ways. These people have shaped me and my faith. They have led me to want to be better and to work for a fairer world.
There are the people I have met overseas, when travelling with CAFOD, or those I have not met but have heard about through my work. They dedicated their lives to supporting their own communities to learn new skills, to fight for their rights and to make their hopes a reality.
There are my grandparents who lived their faith quietly and practically each day. They served others in their local community and had a rich prayer life. I’m sure their influence has something to do with how I ended up writing prayers for CAFOD!
And there are the others: teachers, friends, and former colleagues who have showed me kindness, mercy and generosity in so many ways.
I am grateful to each and every one of them, as I pray for and remember them at this time.