One of my New Testament professors was fond of saying early Christianity was exclusive so that people would want to join. “If everybody could be a Christian,” he suggested, “why would anyone want to be?” There is a snob appeal to such a country-club approach to religiosity (although I believe it to be false) that has somehow come to be attached to All Saints Day. As the holiday that spawned Halloween (or so some say), All Saints seems to hold us the exclusive members of a sect that began with radical equality. The slight was addressed in All Souls Day (tomorrow), when the rest of us might have a chance of being remembered.
There was a death in my extended family yesterday, of someone not much older than me. I won’t reveal the personal details here, but I do ponder the coincidence of his passing so close to All Saints. When we’re gone, we hope, people will remember our good, opposite to what Shakespeare suggested might be the case with Julius Caesar. There are those who touch our lives for good, be it loudly or softly, and we tend to think of that good as who they were. But sainthood? Isn’t that a bar too high for anyone to achieve? And if we think we’ve made it, even that very thought is enough to disqualify us. Some sects of Christianity treat any member as a saint, but that leaves little to which to aspire.
For the rest of the world this marks the beginning of November—that month when cold settles in along with longer nights, but no reduced working hours. We are approaching the holiday season, for we need some help to make it through times when loss can feel so close at hand. The veil separating worlds—something science has tried hard to dismiss—was believed to be more permeable at this time of year. All Saints was a bright day of upbeat music and glory, while All Souls followed in black and more somber tones. That’s kind of like November. I grew up, as did my departed kin, without the awareness of these holidays of transition. Protestants sometimes miss the complexity traditional Catholicism had carefully grown. At Nashotah House this was a day of obligation (although they all were, really), and we’d be invited to add names to be recited in mass. I have a name or two to add this year, and I like to think anyone should be free to join.