Part of what we do today is giving thanks for the saints who have gone before us. But this celebration is not without some heaviness on our hearts as we confront our loss.
We grieve because the loss underscores the separation from our loved one that we feel in death. And yet, the separation is just the tip of an iceberg that reveals a larger, more enduring truth.
The late Vietnamese monk and author Thich Nhat Hanh wrote of experiencing a tender connection with his mother in a dream: “The day my mother died,” he wrote, “A serious misfortune of my life arrived. I suffered for more than one year after the passing away of my mother.
“But one night, in the highlands of Vietnam, I was sleeping in the hut of my hermitage. I dreamed of my mother. I saw myself sitting with her, and we were having a wonderful talk. She looked young and beautiful, her hair flowing down. It was so pleasant to sit there and talk to her as if she had never died.
“When I woke up it was about two in the morning, and I felt very strongly that I had never lost my mother. The impression that my mother was still with me was very clear. I understood then that the idea of having lost my mother was just an idea. It was obvious in that moment that my mother is always alive in me.
“I opened the door and went outside … Each time my feet touched the earth I knew my mother was there with me. I knew this body was not mine alone but a living continuation of my mother and my father and my grandparents and great-grandparents. Of all my ancestors. These feet that I saw as “my” feet were actually “our” feet. Together my mother and I were leaving footprints in the damp soil.”
The weight of grief becomes heavier when we believe it’s ours alone to bear. We are conditioned by our culture to be by ourselves with both the pain of grief and the stress of responsibility. For example, when anyone would suggest we are saints, we might therefore resist the notion. Martin Luther claimed we are both saint and sinner. We have no problem accepting the sinner part. But how could I, by myself, aspire to and achieve sainthood?
Sinner and Saint, Grief and Responsibility.
We’ve internalized the hyper-individualistic view of faith and salvation, buying into the idea that “my spirituality is private, that my spiritual growth has absolutely nothing to do with my community, my ancestors—the cloud of witnesses, those I knew directly and indirectly—as well as the countless number of people who have influenced me or even those I myself have influenced.”
And that is why the other part of what we do today is celebrate the newly baptized saints—the infants we welcomed into the Body of Christ earlier this year. Infant baptism reminds us that we go on the journey of faith, not alone, but with others.
So, today we build a bridge—liturgically speaking—between those who have gone before us, and those who are coming after us. We do this to emphasize that “…we are saved not by being privately perfect, but by being part of the body, humble links in the great chain of history.
“This view echoes the biblical concept of a covenant love that was granted to the people of God as a whole and never just to one individual like Abraham, Noah, or David.”
We would not be complete if faith was only about achieving the prize at the end as individuals. For hockey fans, you might recognize the following names: Phil Housley, Marcel Dionne, Jarome Iginla, Adam Oates, Mats Sundin, Dale Hawerchuk, Mike Gartner, Roberto Luongo, Peter Stastny, Pierre Turgeon, Daniel Alfredsson. What do all these great NHLers have in common besides their outstanding individual achievement in the game?
Not one in that list ever won the Stanley Cup. Which is the prize, isn’t it? The whole point of playing and the goal of professional sports is to eventually win the championship. And you can only do that on a team. With others, pulling together, sharing your gifts, drawing on resources and trusting each other to do what you are good at doing.
Today we do our part to build this bridge. And this bridge is a bridge of love and trust. In our lives of faith, we build bridges of love and trust, especially for the next generation coming afterwards. The important thing to acknowledge and celebrate today, for all of us, is that we be bonded somewhere. Because if you have never loved, and cannot trust anyone, there is no bridge.
Neither the grief nor the responsibility is ours alone to bear, as individuals. When the confirmation class debriefed our act of grace in giving pies to homeless street people last week, we confessed that to do so by ourselves would be very difficult. Even impossible.
But if we all held hands on the edge of the cliff of faith, and jumped together, taking the risk of faith together, we could do it and do it well.
What is more we may be surprised to find that after jumping we did not fall to our demise on the rocks in the ravine far below. Rather we would find ourselves standing firmly on a bridge—the bridge built by love and trust—connecting us with God and the vast host of earth and heaven. We are, after all, part of the body, the communion of saints of all times and places.
 Thich Nhat Hanh, No Death, No Fear: Comforting Wisdom for Life (New York: Riverhead Books, 2002), p.5–6.
 Kat Armas, Abuelita Faith: What Women on the Margins Teach Us about Wisdom, Persistence, and Strength (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2021), p.33–37.
 Rohr, The Continuum of Life, ibid. (30 October 2022).