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Communion of Saints

Communion of Saints

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Summary and Practice

Sunday, March 7—Friday, March 12, 2021

Sunday
Together the living form with the dead one community of memory and hope, a holy people touched with the fire of the Spirit, summoned to go forth as companions bringing the face of divine compassion into everyday life. —Elizabeth A. Johnson

Monday
Living in the communion of saints means that we can take ourselves very seriously (we are part of a Great Whole) and not take ourselves too seriously at all (we are just a part of the Great Whole) at the very same time.

Tuesday
I am connected to the past and the future by the ligatures of well-lived lives, the mysteries of “beyondness,” and the memories and narratives that lovingly bind and support me. —Barbara A. Holmes

Wednesday
The dead have returned to the nest of their identity within the great circle of God. God is the greatest circle of all, the largest embrace in the universe, which holds visible and invisible, temporal and eternal, as one. —John O’Donohue

Thursday
In the silence of the morning, as [my abuelita] worked, I found her at prayer—in silence and the presence of love for all of us and the earth. She was at one with the Spirit of Good, God. Theresa Torres

Friday
We have been invited—even now, even today, even this moment—to live consciously in the communion of saints, in the Presence, in the Body, in the Life of the eternal and eternally Risen Christ.

 

The Seven Homecomings

The Seven Homecomings, a practice taught by Tibetan Buddhist Lama Rod Owens, invite us to recognize and honor our own personal “circle of care.” These instructions are just a template; let this practice change to meet your needs. Pause briefly between each section.

  • Begin contemplating the first homecoming of the guide. Reflect on any being who has been a guide, a teacher, a mentor, an adviser, or an elder for you. Reflect on the beings in your life whom you’ve gone to for guidance and support. . . . Invite them to gather around you in a circle and say welcome. Relax. Inhale. Exhale and come home to being held by your guides.
  • The second homecoming is your wisdom texts. [Reflect] on any text that has helped you to deepen your wisdom. These texts can include any writing, books, teachings, sacred scriptures . . . that have helped you to experience clarity, openness, love, and compassion. . . . Say welcome to your texts. Relax. Inhale. Exhale and come home to being held by your wisdom texts.
  • The third homecoming is community. Begin by reflecting about the communities, groups, and spaces where you experience love or the feeling of being accepted and supported in being happy. . . . Where do you feel safe to love? Where are you being loved? . . . Say welcome to your communities. Relax. Inhale. Exhale and come home to being held by your communities.
  • The fourth homecoming is your ancestors. Begin by reflecting on those ancestors who have wanted the best for you, including wanting you to be happy and safe. You don’t need to know who those ancestors are. . . . Also reflect on the lineages you feel connected to, like the lineage of your spiritual tradition, or tradition of art or activism. . . . As you invite your ancestors, remember that you too are in the process of becoming an ancestor. . . . Say welcome to your ancestors and lineages. Relax. Inhale. Exhale and come home to being held by your ancestors and lineages.
  • The fifth homecoming is the earth. Begin by reflecting on . . . how [the earth] sustains your life and the lives of countless beings. . . . Coming home to the earth means touching the earth, acknowledging the earth . . . and allowing it to hold you and, as it holds you, understanding that it is loving you as well. . . . Say welcome to the earth. Relax. Inhale. Exhale and come home to being held by the earth.
  • The sixth homecoming is silence. Begin by reflecting on the generosity of silence as something that helps you to have the space to be with yourself. . . . Reflect on how you can embrace silence as a friend and/or lover invested in your health and well-being. . . . Say welcome to the silence. Relax. Inhale. Exhale and come home to being held by the silence.
  • Finally, the seventh homecoming is yourself. Begin by reflecting on your experiences of your mind and body. Consider how your experiences are valuable, important, and crucial. Invite all the parts of yourself into your awareness, including the parts of yourself that seem too ugly or overwhelming. . . . Say welcome to yourself. Relax. Inhale. Exhale and come home to yourself. . . .

Now imagine that your circle of benefactors begins to dissolve into white light, and gather that white light into your heart center. Rest your mind and relax.

Experience a version of this practice through video and sound.

Reference:
Lama Rod Owens, Love and Rage: The Path of Liberation through Anger (North Atlantic Books: 2020), 87–91.

Image credit: U.S. Information Agency. Press and Publications Service. ca. 1953-ca. 1978, Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. Young men and women sitting in front of the Lincoln Memorial, (detail), photograph, public domain.
Image inspiration: What do Chuck Taylors and office dress shoes, high heels and sandals have in common? They shod the feet of our community of saints. The intergenerational wisdom of both the young ones and elders blesses us all.
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Communion of Saints

Living in Heaven Now
Friday, March 12, 2021

Jesus spoke these things, and lifting up his eyes to heaven, he said, “Father . . . I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in me through their word; that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you sent me.” —John 17:1, 20–23

This beautiful prayer for union is from Jesus’ Last Supper address to his disciples. It might be the highest level of mystical teaching in the entire New Testament. Here Jesus connects everything: he in his Father, the Father in you, you in God, God in him, God in the world, and you in the world. It’s all one.

I think this is the core realization of every saint. Saints see things in their connectedness and wholeness. They don’t see things as separate. It’s all one, and yet like the Trinity, it is also different. What you do to another, you do to yourself; how you love yourself is how you love your neighbor; how you love God is how you love yourself; how you love yourself is how you love God. How you do anything is how you do everything.

Faith is not simply seeing things at their visible, surface level, but recognizing their deepest meaning. To be a person of faith means we see things—people, animals, plants, the earth—as inherently connected to God, connected to ourselves, and therefore, absolutely worthy of love and dignity. That’s what Jesus is praying for: that we could see things in their unity, in their connectedness.

I will go so far as to say that the more we can connect, the more of a saint we are. The less we can connect, the less transformed we are. If we can’t connect with people of other religions, classes, or races, with our “enemies” or with those who are suffering, we’re not very converted. Truly transformed individuals are capable of a universal recognition. They see that everything is one.

We don’t go to heaven; we learn how to live in heaven now. And no one lives in heaven alone. Either we learn how to live in communion with other people and with all that God has created, or, quite simply, we’re not ready for heaven. If we want to live an isolated life, trying to prove that we’re better than everybody else or believing we’re worse than everybody else, we are already in hell. We have been invited—even now, even today, even this moment—to live consciously in the communion of saints, in the Presence, in the Body, in the Life of the eternal and eternally Risen Christ. This must be an almost perfect way to describe salvation itself.

Reference:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Seeing Is Not Always Recognizing,” homily, Albuquerque, New Mexico, May 8, 2016.

Story from Our Community:
Walking at dawn during a difficult life transition many years ago, I suddenly felt the trees comforting me like grandmothers. My own grandmothers were a steady source of unconditional love and security, giving us shelter whenever we needed it. Now that I am a grandmother myself, trees remind me that my role is simply to stand by with a steady supply of silent love. —Karen F.

Image credit: U.S. Information Agency. Press and Publications Service. ca. 1953-ca. 1978, Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. Young men and women sitting in front of the Lincoln Memorial, (detail), photograph, public domain.
Image inspiration: What do Chuck Taylors and office dress shoes, high heels and sandals have in common? They shod the feet of our community of saints. The intergenerational wisdom of both the young ones and elders blesses us all.
Read Full Entry

Communion of Saints

A Presence That Continues
Thursday, March 11, 2021

Theresa Torres’ description of receiving her faith through her grandmother is a wonderful reflection of how faith was once passed down generation to generation. Her grandmother, or abuelita, inspires spirituality not as a religious creedal statement or morality code, but as a healing and transformational way of life.

As I reflected on the various types of prayer I rely on to give me strength and support on a daily basis and to carry me through the dark times, I had to return to my childhood. It was my abuelita. I am a third-generation Mexican American, and it was my grandmother who taught me so much about nuestra cultura and spirituality. I keep these nuggets of wisdom, knowledge, and strength close to my heart and soul. Because what she taught me was that prayer is about life—there is no division between daily life and daily prayer, they are one and the same. She taught me that the great Good that we call God is present all around us and we are one in the great Good.

Some of my fondest memories of childhood are of getting up early in the cool, damp summer mornings and finding my grandmother working in her garden and blessing the earth with her hands and her gentle spirit of reverence and awe. In the silence of the morning, as she worked, I found her at prayer—in silence and the presence of love for all of us and the earth. She was at one with the Spirit of Good, God.

She was the ground—the foundation and the presence of spirituality for me and for our entire family. . . . I was twelve at the time of her death, and she died after a short illness. Because she was so strong for most of my life, I could not envision she could be so ill or even could die. I was in denial, and while my mother tried to prepare me and console me, it was abuelita herself who showed me that her goodbye was not an end. In her death, she came to me and said her goodbye through the shared memories of our many experiences, and I felt her love and spirit go through me. She knew that her dying would be hard, but her presence was not gone—we are united in the grounding of the great spirit of Good. She also showed me the unity among those who have gone before us. Her presence and wisdom continue in my life—she has returned in dreams at important points in my life, and she continues to bless me. It is in living and even in dying that we are united in the Spirit of Great Good, so long as we love and we listen deep within. In the grounding of our lives, in the silence, we come to KNOW the wisdom and the transformative Good that exist in us and around us and in the lives of the abuelitas who have gone before us.

Reference:
Theresa Torres, “What My Abuelita Taught Me about Prayer and Memory . . .,” in Voices from the Ancestors: Xicanx and Latinx Spiritual Expressions and Healing Practices, ed. Lara Medina and Martha R. Gonzales (The University of Arizona Press: 2019), 142–143.

Story from Our Community:
Walking at dawn during a difficult life transition many years ago, I suddenly felt the trees comforting me like grandmothers. My own grandmothers were a steady source of unconditional love and security, giving us shelter whenever we needed it. Now that I am a grandmother myself, trees remind me that my role is simply to stand by with a steady supply of silent love. —Karen F.

Image credit: U.S. Information Agency. Press and Publications Service. ca. 1953-ca. 1978, Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. Young men and women sitting in front of the Lincoln Memorial, (detail), photograph, public domain.
Image inspiration: What do Chuck Taylors and office dress shoes, high heels and sandals have in common? They shod the feet of our community of saints. The intergenerational wisdom of both the young ones and elders blesses us all.
Read Full Entry

Communion of Saints

The Circle of Eternity
Wednesday, March 10, 2021

I once shared a happy dinner with the beloved Irish poet and philosopher John O’Donohue (1956­–2008). He passed away far too soon at the age of 52, and I imagine he was immediately welcomed into the communion of saints, living in the “circle of eternity” he describes in this passage:   

The Celtic Irish tradition recognizes that the eternal and the transient worlds are woven in and through each other. Very often at death, the inhabitants of the eternal world come out toward the visible world. . . . Your friends who now live in the eternal world come to meet you, to bring you home. Usually, for people who are dying to see their own friends gives them great strength, support, and encouragement. . . .

Here we are caught in linear time. . . . Time must be totally different for the dead because they live now within a circle of eternity. . . . The Celtic mind never liked the line but always loved the shape of the circle. . . . I imagine that in the eternal world time has become the circle of eternity. Maybe when a person goes into that world, he or she can look back at what we call past time here. That person may also see all of future time. For the dead, present time is total presence. This suggests that our friends among the dead know us better than they can ever have known us in life. . . .

I believe that our friends among the dead really mind us and look out for us. Often there might be a big boulder of misery over your path about to fall on you, but your friends among the dead hold it back until you have passed by. One of the exciting developments that may happen in evolution and in human consciousness in the next several hundred years is a whole new relationship with the invisible, eternal world. We might begin to link up in a very creative way with our friends in the invisible world. . . . They are now in a place where there is no more shadow, darkness, loneliness, isolation, or pain. They are home. They are with God from whom they came. They have returned to the nest of their identity within the great circle of God. God is the greatest circle of all, the largest embrace in the universe, which holds visible and invisible, temporal and eternal, as one. . . .

In the eternal world, all is one. In spiritual space there is no distance. In eternal time there is no segmentation into today, yesterday, or tomorrow. In eternal time all is now; time is presence. I believe that this is what eternal life means: it is a life where all that we seek—goodness, unity, beauty, truth, and love—are no longer distant from us but are now completely present with us.

Reference:
John O’Donohue, Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom (HarperCollins: 1997), 211, 227–228, 229.

Story from Our Community:
I’d always struggled with a sense that there was something so deeply unworthy about me that even God had rejected me. Then my first and only daughter died during birth. It was then that reality began to dawn on me: If I, a mere human, could see this child as infinitely precious and irreplaceable, how much more was I, and every human being, in the eyes of God! For the first time I felt this love, not only for myself, but also shining on every person. —Wanda W.

Image credit: U.S. Information Agency. Press and Publications Service. ca. 1953-ca. 1978, Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. Young men and women sitting in front of the Lincoln Memorial, (detail), photograph, public domain.
Image inspiration: What do Chuck Taylors and office dress shoes, high heels and sandals have in common? They shod the feet of our community of saints. The intergenerational wisdom of both the young ones and elders blesses us all.
Read Full Entry

Communion of Saints

Wisdom beyond the Veil
Tuesday, March 9, 2021

By passing along the narrow road they widened it, and while they went along, trampling on the rough ways, they went ahead of us. —Augustine of Hippo, Sermon for the feast of Saint Quadratus

I can’t imagine that God expects all human beings to start from zero and to reinvent the wheel of life in their own small lifetimes. We must build on the common “communion of saints” throughout the ages. This is the inherited fruit and gift that is sometimes called the “wisdom tradition.” (In the Catholic Church, we refer to it as the Big Tradition and it is held in the same esteem as Holy Scripture.) It is not always inherited simply by belonging to one group or religion. It largely depends on how informed, mature, and experienced our particular teachers are. CAC faculty member Barbara Holmes honors the wisdom she has been gifted by the teachers in her own faith and culture:

I know that African foremothers and forefathers would have referred to the assembled leaders [in my book Liberation and the Cosmos] as ancestors and that the place would be understood to be “beyond the veil.” Although some folks use a very narrow definition of the word ancestor, I use the word as an indicator of legacy and interconnections. The ancestors are elders who pour their lives into the community as a libation of love and commitment. They live and die well, and when they transition, they do so in full connection with an engaged community.

Thereafter, they dwell in the spaces carved out by our spiritual and cultural expectations. They may be in another life dimension, but they connect with us in dreams, in memories, and in stories. . . .

The stories reveal a promise that the community will continue beyond the breath of one individual and that all transitions will be well attended by relatives from the other side. This is a cosmology of connection that values but also transcends cultural contexts; life is considered to be a continuum of transitions, ruptures, and returns. Those who admit that the “ordinary” is punctuated by the ineffable cherish those indescribable and nonrational events as an enigmatic but welcome gift. The fact that I grew up in a family that included the presumptions of transcendence and the unseen in our everyday lives has affected my journey in powerful ways. . .

The end result is that I know that I am not alone. I am connected to the past and the future by the ligatures of well-lived lives, the mysteries of “beyondness,” and the memories and narratives that lovingly bind and support me. While I hope that when I die, one of the elders in my family who have crossed over to the realm of the ancestors will be at my bedside, I certainly did not expect contact prior to that time. And yet here I am, [in my work] hearing from liberation leaders I have never personally met. They are also my elders as certainly as if they occupied a branch of my family tree. They have bequeathed to all of us a legacy of resolve, resistance, and spiritual expansiveness.

References:
Barbara A. Holmes, Liberation and the Cosmos: Conversations with the Elders (Fortress Press: 2008), 3.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Yes, And . . . : Daily Meditations (Franciscan Media: 2019), 26.

Story from Our Community:
I’d always struggled with a sense that there was something so deeply unworthy about me that even God had rejected me. Then my first and only daughter died during birth. It was then that reality began to dawn on me: If I, a mere human, could see this child as infinitely precious and irreplaceable, how much more was I, and every human being, in the eyes of God! For the first time I felt this love, not only for myself, but also shining on every person. —Wanda W.

Image credit: U.S. Information Agency. Press and Publications Service. ca. 1953-ca. 1978, Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. Young men and women sitting in front of the Lincoln Memorial, (detail), photograph, public domain.
Image inspiration: What do Chuck Taylors and office dress shoes, high heels and sandals have in common? They shod the feet of our community of saints. The intergenerational wisdom of both the young ones and elders blesses us all.
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Communion of Saints

The Fullness of Time
Monday, March 8, 2021

What some call “liminal space” or threshold space (in Latin, limen means a threshold) is a very good phrase for those special times, events, and places that open us up to the sacred. It seems we need special (sacred) days to open us up to all days being special and sacred. This has always been the case and didn’t originate with Christianity. Ancient initiation rites were intensely sacred time and space that sent the initiate into a newly discovered sacred universe.

What became All Saints Day and All Souls Day (November 1–2) were already called “thin times” by the ancient Celts, as were February 1–2 (St. Bridget’s Day and Candlemas Day, when the candles were blessed and lit). The veil between this world and the next world was considered most “thin” and easily traversed during these times. On these days, we are invited to be aware of deep time—that is, past, present, and future time gathered into one especially holy moment. We are reminded that our ancestors are still in us and work with us and through us. We call it the “communion of saints.” The New Testament phrase for this was “when time came to a fullness,” as when Jesus first announces the Reign of God (Mark 1:15) or when Mary comes to the moment of birth (Luke 2:6). We are in liminal space whenever past, present, and future time come together in a full moment of readiness. We are in liminal space whenever the division between “right here” and “over there” is obliterated in our consciousness.

Deep time, or the communion of saints professed in Christian creeds, means that our goodness is not just our own, nor is our badness just our own. We are intrinsically social animals. We carry the lived and the unlived (and unhealed) lives of our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents as far back as DNA and genomes can trace them—which is pretty far back. It does take a village to create a person. We are the very first generation to know that this is literally and genetically true. There is deep healing and understanding when we honor the full cycle of life. No wonder so many are intrigued today by genealogy searches and ancestry test kits. Many cry and laugh at their newly discovered place in a long family tree about which they knew little.

Living in the communion of saints means that we can take ourselves very seriously (we are part of a Great Whole) and not take ourselves too seriously at all (we are just a part of the Great Whole) at the very same time. I hope this frees us from any unnecessary individual guilt—and, more importantly, frees us to be full “partners in God’s triumphant parade” through time and history (2 Corinthians 2:14). We are in on the deal and, yes, the really Big Deal. We are all a very small part of a very Big Thing! We are little happy and content fish in a huge and limitless ocean.

Reference:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Yes, And . . . : Daily Meditations (Franciscan Media: 2019), 162–163.

Story from Our Community:
I tried to make my way through The Cloud of Unknowing, but somehow could never get past the first few chapters. What exactly is meant by a cloud of unknowing? Surely, I thought, on this journey we dearly need a cloud of knowing, rather than unknowing! When I joined the CAC daily emails, lo and behold the answers to my questions were answered beautifully by Fr. Richard. Deep gratitude for the many gifts of spirit you offer. —Kathy M.

Image credit: U.S. Information Agency. Press and Publications Service. ca. 1953-ca. 1978, Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. Young men and women sitting in front of the Lincoln Memorial, (detail), photograph, public domain.
Image inspiration: What do Chuck Taylors and office dress shoes, high heels and sandals have in common? They shod the feet of our community of saints. The intergenerational wisdom of both the young ones and elders blesses us all.
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Communion of Saints

A Community of Holy People
Sunday, March 7, 2021

In the fourteenth century, the inspired, anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing taught that God in Christ dealt with sin, death, forgiveness, and salvation “all in one lump.” It is a most unusual, even homely, phrase; for me, this corporate and even mystical reading of divine history contributes toward the unitive vision so many of us are seeking. Jesus by himself entered history as an individual, albeit a divine individual, but the Universal Christ is a compelling image for this “one-lump” view of reality.

I think this collective notion is what Christians were trying to verbalize when they made a late addition (fifth century) to the ancient Apostles’ Creed: “I believe in the communion of saints.” They were offering us this new idea that the dead are at one with the living, whether they’re our direct ancestors, the saints in glory, or even the so-called souls in purgatory. The whole assembly is one, just at different stages, all of it loved corporately by God (and, one hopes, by us). Within this worldview, 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 Israel as a whole, and never just to one individual like Abraham, Moses, or Esther. We are often too preoccupied with the “salvation of individuals” to read history in a corporate way, and the results have been disastrous. The isolated individual is now left fragile and defensive, adrift and alone, in a huge ocean of others who are also trying to save themselves—neither assisting nor relying on one another or the whole Body of Christ.

Theologian Elizabeth Johnson, a Sister of Saint Joseph, has worked for many years to redeem and expand the Catholic understanding of what exactly is meant by the “communion of saints.” She describes it as an “intergenerational community of the living and the dead stretching across time and space and comprised of all who are made holy by the Spirit of God.” [1] She writes:

In a physical and biological sense, interrelationship is not an appendage to the natural order but its very lifeblood. Everything is connected to everything else, and it all flourishes or withers together. . . .

Together the living form with the dead one community of memory and hope, a holy people touched with the fire of the Spirit, summoned to go forth as companions bringing the face of divine compassion into everyday life and the great struggles of history, wrestling with evil, and delighting even now when fragments of justice, peace, and healing gain however small a foothold. When they are seen together with the whole natural world as a dynamic, sacred community of the most amazing richness and complexity, then the symbol of the communion of saints reaches its fullness as a symbol of effective presence and action of Holy Wisdom herself. [2]

References:
[1] Elizabeth A. Johnson, Truly Our Sister: A Theology of Mary in the Communion of Saints (Continuum: 2006, ©2003), xiii.

[2] Elizabeth A. Johnson, Friends of God and Prophets: A Feminist Theological Reading of the Communion of Saints (Continuum: 1998), 240, 243.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope for, and Believe (Convergent: 2019), 162–164.

Story from Our Community:
I tried to make my way through The Cloud of Unknowing, but somehow could never get past the first few chapters. What exactly is meant by a cloud of unknowing? Surely, I thought, on this journey we dearly need a cloud of knowing, rather than unknowing! When I joined the CAC daily emails, lo and behold the answers to my questions were answered beautifully by Fr. Richard. Deep gratitude for the many gifts of spirit you offer. —Kathy M.

Image credit: U.S. Information Agency. Press and Publications Service. ca. 1953-ca. 1978, Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. Young men and women sitting in front of the Lincoln Memorial, (detail), photograph, public domain.
Image inspiration: What do Chuck Taylors and office dress shoes, high heels and sandals have in common? They shod the feet of our community of saints. The intergenerational wisdom of both the young ones and elders blesses us all.
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