“Little Stories and Big Saints”

Mary Magdala Community

“Little Stories and Big Saints” 

Thoughts on All Saints/All Souls, November 5, 2017

by Rev. Jim Ryan,  jimryan6885@gmail.com

“Who we are now…. and who we will later become….”

Adaptation of 1 John 3:3

Now, there’s an indicator of change, the kind of change, for our purposes, that speaks of conversion.  And by conversion I don’t mean the change to another denomination.  I’m talking about conversion of the heart on a daily basis.  On this Feast of All Saints/All Souls we remind ourselves of life stories that are full of daily conversions.

Bernard Lonergan, Jesuit, Philosopher, Theologian, and Master of Method, had this to say about religious conversion.  He said religious conversion is about Memory.  It’s the kind of memory that goes like this.  I have the story of my life that I keep retelling to myself over and over in the form of stories from my past.  Often these stories change because I either remember or forget certain facts.  That can change my memory of the story.  Sometimes my interpretation of the story changes because memory reminds me of facts and meanings that occur at a later time.

The point is, memory changes our story.  It is not required to be exact.  It abides with us to keep alive the threads of experience.  If we are lucky and/or blessed memory is just as valuable for the future as it is for the past.

In religious conversion, according to Lonergan, the memory of each person’s refreshed and renewed back story can be the way that we deepen our relationship to God.  Each time we get renewed insight on the meaning of past events that is when our spiritual life deepens and strengthens its connection to the divine.  This is the stuff of religious conversion – what makes Saints of us all!

And for all the big stories of certain Saints it’s the little stories of daily events that shape most of the Saints we know.

Here’s a little story about a big Saint who I know.  It’s a story that I have told myself for practically 60 years and, as good stories go, it has only gotten better with time.

It was the summer either before or after my sister – the youngest of 8 children – was born.  I was either 8 or 9 depending on which summer it actually was.  (Memory still hasn’t clarified that for me yet.)  For whatever reason one of my Mother’s sisters and one of her aunts each took two of us boys to stay with them for one week that summer.  Neither my Aunt nor my Great Aunt had children.  And I never have settled on the reason for the offer.  I think it had something to do with somebody feeling sorry for my Mom, you know, having all those unruly boys to deal with.  Remember, there were 7 of us.  With child # 8 on the way (or, recently born, again, depending on the summer) she may have reached the tipping point.  The curious thing about this “experiment” was that it happened only once.  “You know those Ryan boys.”

So, off we went for a week of uncertainties.  One good thing about going with Great Aunt Mamie and Uncle Bill was we knew one night we were going to the Cleveland Indians baseball game.

But, that’s not the story.

After the week was done and I had returned home Mom asked how it went.  I said it was great and that Aunt Mamie had the best tasting orange juice ever.  Mom didn’t say much.  It took me 50 years before I realized that Aunt Mamie’s OJ tasted so great because she didn’t have to add an extra can of water to dilute the juice so 8 children could each get their share.

But, that’s not the story.

For the last decade I have realized that my parents had years and years of being the object of not-quite pity – maybe you’re familiar with the rap, “Poor Peggy and Harry, all those mouths to feed and they’re always struggling.”

Now that I realize the things my parents endured to keep life together, and not the least being the slings and arrows fired at them from their own family members. And now that I more fully appreciate the things they did to show us their love, it is clear to me their daily commitment of connection to God.

And, that’s the little story of big Saints Peg and Harry.

The Saints in our lives live day by day and inch by inch.  Their conversion of the heart is taking on each day’s challenges.  Memory serves them by constantly telling them their own story.  With each retelling – they connect ever more closely with their Creator.  And sometimes their children learn the lessons that Memory teaches.


A Prayer

All-Powerful, ever-living, and loving God,
today we celebrate the holy men, women, and children
of every time and place.  Those who responded to your invitation to a life well lived now live in glory—your promise to them fulfilled.

In the ages to come may our reach for cosmic wonder be the sign of your Spirit.  May our search for truth in creation with its limitless and eternal promise grow always more confident.

May our connection with all saints bring us reconciliation, forgiveness and love.  We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ, our brother and your beloved son.    Amen.

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