Felix Adler once said: “A hero is one who kindles a great light in the world, who sets up blazing torches in the dark streets of life so that others can see. A saint is one who walks through those dark paths and is, himself, a light.” At this time of his earthly passing, Americans honor a great hero, Colin Powell, much as we honor others who have gone before him and still others who live among us: faithful servants who sacrifice for a greater good. The church at this time of year, also, honors many saints.
In the heartland, many of us give praise to, or simply learn more about, Emil Kapaun, a twentieth century priest, soldier, and hero who grew up in rural Kansas, served in World War II, and was killed in a POW Camp in Korea in 1951. His remains were miraculously discovered earlier this year and returned to his native Wichita diocese after seven decades for a hero’s burial, while hopes for his canonization increase. Known for his humble service, courageous leadership, and virtuous example, his light illuminates the path for me and others.
Another midwestern diocesan priest, Stanley Rother of Oklahoma City, who ministered as a missionary in poverty-stricken Guatemala where he was killed in 1981, has been declared a Blessed Martyr by Pope Francis, also this year. Rother’s devotion to the indigenous people he served brought about his commitment to remain with them, though he was targeted, harassed, tortured, and ultimately killed. Though his body was brough back to the United States for burial, the people of Guatemala requested to keep his heart; granted by his family, this relic is a perpetual reminder to them of his love.
Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, died forty years ago in her native New York. She, too, was recently elevated by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to be called a “Servant of God” or Venerable. Her influence in the church’s quest to advance social justice and care for the poor has inspired many to imitate her works in city streets and rural farms across the globe. Strongly rooted in prayer and known for translating faith into action, she is often hailed as a saint for our modern world.
Though not American, Carlo Acutis is also among the newest saints. A fifteen-year-old Italian video gamer, soccer player, and defender of peers who were bullied, he had a deep faith at a young age with special devotion to the Holy Eucharist. He contracted leukemia and died far too young; he is buried in Assisi according to his wishes and has gained an incredible following throughout the world, especially among teenagers as the first millennial saint.
These holy ones not only reflect the light of Christ as spiritual heroes, they also shine His light upon the face of the world. There are myriads of saints all around us that join in this illumination; we encounter them in the normal course of daily living. While heroes inspire us to be better people, saints make it easier for us to believe. As we prepare for the annual Days of the Dead (Dias de los Muertos), highlighted by the Feast of All Saints, let’s take some time to give thanks for those who enlighten our lives and enliven our faith. The faces of these saints will help us to reflect God’s brilliant glory.