Among church teachings, the communion of saints is radiant for me. The phrase is a verb, not a noun. "The communion of saints" shimmers with God's presence, Eucharist, the mystery of profound connection, the plenitude of grace.
The communion of saints animates daily life. I'm very lucky to "live and move and have my being" in layers of communities where I experience God's vibrant presence.
Marriage, family, groups of friends, online communities, people on the margins with whom I walk: these are some of the easy and obvious communities of saints for me. As they support, inspire and challenge me, I glimpse God's face in each person. LCWR has become one of these communities, in multiple dimensions.
Less obvious but no less real are the communities that stretch my mind and heart from a distance. Near in miles but far in experience are tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants hiding in plain sight; victims of trafficking who walk through downtown streets and hotels; babies and kids whose ambulances scream as they rush to Children's Hospital; so many more. Equally real are the people of far-off Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq... Filipinos who lost their lives, families, and homes in Typhoon Haiyan... individuals in this country and all over the world whose pains and losses are invisible to me yet known at the deep level through the communion of saints.
Heroes are huge in my experience of the communion of saints. I particularly appreciate those who leave a trail for me, like Franciscan Sister Pat Farrell's 2012 address that teaches me how LCWR sisters and staff "navigate the shifts." These heroic trails deep into holiness make intricate patterns that cover the whole earth and all time, and stretch beyond the earth and into eternity.
I'm lucky: death was an easy companion when I was little. Great-aunts and -uncles, elderly second cousins, people I saw only a couple of times a year - they were old, they died, we trusted that God welcomed them. Wakes and funerals were warm and convivial and confident.
In my teens, death became more stark. My favorite uncle. Two more uncles. My own father.
My mother woke us girls at 3 a.m. Dr. Thibadeau, Daddy's childhood friend, told us that our father was dead. My mother told us that he was with God, we would be all right, and we should go back to sleep. And somehow we did.
My mother's actions that week expressed the reality she had always taught us. His was the first Mass of Resurrection celebrated in our parish, with readings of hope, the priest wearing white, and all of us in soft colors instead of black. The family future was completely unknown, but when, as the oldest daughter, I assumed I'd quit college immediately, in the middle of freshman year, and get a job, she replied, "Your father would want you back at Fordham. We'll be okay here." And somehow, in God's grace, they were.
In each important death, then and now, I've never experienced a sundering. A stretching, yes. Sometimes a gift of absolutely clear recognition of a loving presence to me that was no longer physical. Often a slow growth of understanding inside me, like a persistent trickle of grace from a person who had been complicated during life here and now was alive in the graced simplicity of God.
The communion of saints enables me, here and now, to be more alive in God, just as I believe that those I love who have died are, in some transformed way, profoundly alive in God who is Love, profoundly united with all other good people in a family reunion beyond imagining.
Elise Ritter's image of joyful radiant closeness celebrates all this, in my eyes.
Her "Communion of Saints" above is available in many forms, even as an inexpensive notecard. Many thanks for her permission to share it with you here.
May we all find our own images for the power of God's presence in us and among us. May we shine with the fact that we are alive in God and in communion with all saints past, present, and future.