Standing in the presence of God and all his Saints
by Vron Smith
The first home football match at Sunderland AFC (in my earlier life I used to have a season ticket) around Boxing day has always had significance for me. Before the match kicks off there is a minute’s silence during which the crowd of around 30-40,000 fans are invited to remember those who have died - the season ticket holder that used to sit next to you week in, week out who is no longer there, those who were killed in national tragedies and particularly our own loved ones. It is a poignant moment and everyone together in the stadium holds the deep mix of so many emotions that just are – love, anger, sadness, relief – because of their loss. It is profoundly uniting, a sharing by people, who in other circumstances, would pass each other by on the street. In that simple minute of silence it brings those people to us once again, to be present to us in a way that changes us. We are not unaffected by our remembering of them.
I would go further. It is not just that I remember those I have loved and lost but that, with the grace of the Spirit, I experience them as still loving and still present to me, in ways perhaps that only imagination can help capture. It’s a perception that Ignatius encourages those making the Exercises to engage with. Three times during the Exercises Ignatius invites the person praying to begin by placing themselves before the heavenly court – God, the angels, all the Saints - and it’s usually when there is some serious seeking of graces to be done, life-changing stuff. Michael Ivens says that ‘it serves to accentuate the solemnity of the exercitant’s situation.’
I sometimes imagine standing before all those who have gone before me in love, the famous Saints and the little ones, my dad, my brother, the angels etc. and that can seem gulp-making. But what I have come to know and experience more deeply as time has gone on, is that they’re all rooting for me, for us. They are on my side and want for me what God wants for me and that takes any tremble away. They are there for me and I am never without their love and care and prayer. As Pope Benedict put it, ‘Each one of us can say: “Surrounded, led and guided by the friends of God … I do not have to carry alone what, in truth, I could never carry alone. All the Saints of God are there to protect me, to sustain me and to carry me.”’
The communion of saints is, for me, deeply consoling to be part of. As we look forward to celebrating the feast of All Saints in the next week, may I tentatively invite you (if you haven’t already) to imagine yourself standing with them (and with me), and to realise just how much you are supported and loved.