Jim Harnish

Why We Need “Saints”


All Saints’ Day — And Why We Need It

Today is All Saints’ Day, the celebration for which “All Hallows Eve” was the dark night preceding the remembrance of those who have modeled the way, truth and life revealed in Christ and have joined the saints around God’s throne (Revelation 7:9-17).  I agree with John Wesley who called it “a day that I peculiarly love.”

It’s also a day we desperately need this year!

“This Ugly Year” 

David Brooks, who is becoming the biblical prophet of our time, described “this ugly year” when “the nation’s moral capital is being decimated.”

Brooks defined “moral capital” as “the set of shared habits, norms, institutions and values that make common life possible.” He could not have been more true to scripture than when he confessed, “Left to our own, we human beings have an impressive capacity for selfishness…the struggle for power has a tendency to become barbaric.” As a result, “decent societies” develop “codes of politeness, humility and mutual respect that girdle selfishness and steer us toward reconciliation.”

Then Brooks named the painful truth.

“This year Trump…dismantled the codes of etiquette that prevent politics from becoming an unmodulated screaming match. By lying more or less all the time, he dismantles the fealty to truth without which conversation is impossible. By refusing to automatically respect the election results he corrodes confidence in our common institutions and risks turning public life into a never-ending dogfight.”

Brooks also points to the contributions the Clintons have made to the diminishing of our moral capital, though by his outrageous behavior, Trump has dragged us into the gutter of some of the darkest urges of our darkest selves and has made acceptable language and behavior that our “codes of politeness, humility and mutual respect” have previously constrained.

Brooks called us to the “giant task of moral repair ahead of us.” He concluded,”The one nice thing about Trump is that he has prompted so many people to find their voice, and to turn from their revulsion to a higher alternative.” (You can read his entire article here.) Which brings us back to All Saints’ Day.

Our Need to Remember the Saints 

We need to remember the saints because they show us that “a higher alternative” is possible for all of us. Emily Dickinson wrote:

We never know how high we are
Till we are called to rise;
And then, if we are true to plan,
Our statures touch the skies–

As a part of my personal spiritual discipline, I follow the Episcopal Church’s calendar of saints. It provides a brief description of each person along with related scripture and the prayer for the day. I am continually reminded of the way otherwise ordinary people have become extraordinary witnesses for Christ by facing the opportunities and challenges of their time as faithful followers of Jesus Christ. They remind us that it is possible to go higher, in Paul’s words, to “seek the things that are above.” In Colossians 3:1-17, describes what Christ-like “moral capital” looks like.

So, on this All Saints Day, may we hear them cheering us on as we follow Christ to a higher, holier, more loving way of life.  As the children’s song says, “they were all of the saints of God, and I mean, God helping, to be one too.” (“I Sing a Song of the Saints of God”)

Grace and peace,