She loved this time of year – the smell of cinnamon and apples, the brightly colored leaves falling from tall trees and the lazy Sunday afternoons watching football. Despite the impending cold, there was something magical about autumn weather. It was palpable – almost like you could reach out and grab the crispness and sunshine of a perfect fall day in New England.
She also cherished religious days in the fall as they provided encouragement in her spiritual journey and peace for her soul. All Saints Day was an opportunity to reconnect with chosen heavenly friends who had inspired her in faith. On All Souls Day, she would offer special Masses and prayers for her parents and loved ones who had gone home to God. Both days served to deepen her faith life and ground her in the belief that we are made for heaven – our time on this earth is only temporary.
My beautiful mother was close to the Blessed Mother Mary thus she loved to celebrate Our Lady of the Rosary in the month of October. Her friendship with the Mother of God was something well known and admired among family and friends. As the first saint, Mary was a model of discipleship. Without any concern for herself, she said YES to God when asked to do the nearly impossible. My mom modeled Mary’s faithfulness with her ability to say YES to God in her own life, especially during difficult times. Mary was probably my mom’s closest saint friend. Saint Padre Pio was another saint whom she was drawn to in a special way. I’m not sure how he came into her life but I do recall her love of him as a spiritual father. Saint Pio of Pietrelcina (Padre Pio), was a poor Italian friar, priest, stigmatist and mystic. Although he was a sickly child and adult, God worked incredible miracles through him. He was a gifted preacher and confessor who drew thousands and often said “Pray, hope and don’t worry.” I recall praying with my mom on many occasions, though the intercession of Padre Pio. These sacred moments between mother/daughter are beautiful memories seared in my mind – never to be forgotten as gifts of hope lifted up to God. Mom had many other saint friends including Saint Mother Teresa (for her deep faith amidst the darkness and her incredible charity to the poor and dying), Saint John Paul II (for his beautiful holiness and boldness in sharing the gospel – enough to bring down the evils of communism), Saint Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower (for her simplicity in doing little things well for the love of God) and Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati (for his humility and love of the poor) – the beauty of these friendships sustained her life and drew her closer to God.
The fall can be a busy time for many. This exquisite season with its brilliant colored leaves and mild weather should be a time for appreciating the goodness of God’s world. But the back to school chaos, children’s sports/activities, volunteer meetings, work deadlines and more prevent us from properly meeting God in the midst of one of the most beautiful times of the year. Add to it any additional challenges like poor heath, loss of a loved one or some other significant life event and we can fail to appreciate the sheer splendor of the season all together.
I will admit that this has happened to me lately due to the unpleasantness of my daily back pain. Despite my best efforts, sometimes I just let it get the best of me. At a recent daily Mass though, I was gifted with a homily that brought me back to the present day and the gifts right in front of me. The gospel for the day was from Luke 13:24 “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.” The priest shared a personal story about his saint friends in relation to this scripture passage, “The saints can help us enter though the narrow gate each day. They are models of faith – regular people like you and me – who have attained extraordinary holiness. I talk to them and ask my gang of friends to accompany me daily – to give me courage and to help me live closer to God and His mother.” I loved his tagline gang of friends – he referred to it again when he shared a few of his closest saint friends who have helped him attain deeper holiness in his journey of faith. “We are all in this together,” he said. “The saints keep us from straying too far from God and we should call on them every day.”
I thought about his words for awhile and wondered “Who’s in my gang?” Thinking back to what I learned from my mom I smiled thinking “I do have a gang of friends in heaven.” But I had failed to call on them lately for spiritual support, guidance and help – especially during the tougher days. A few of my special friends include Servant of God Dorothy Day (convert to the faith, love of the Church, dedication to the poor, marginalized), Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, Edith Stein (convert to faith, highly educated woman, teacher turned religious sister, died in Auschwitz), St. Francis of Assisi (Italian son of a wealthy family who discovered that money does not equal happiness, gave it all up for God, love of creation), and St. Joan of Arc (responded to God’s call to serve her country winning a battle for France over England in Hundred Year’s War, prayed fervently for her soldiers, never actually fought anyone but her persistent faith and trust in God was instrumental in the victory).
Looking back at my gang and my mom’s gang I realized that I am blessed with powerful friends in heaven. These men and women were not that different from me – flawed yet seeking. In their weakness, God was strong and worked through them to draw others close. I could (and should) call on them daily for spiritual guidance, just like my mom did. By doing this, mom drew closer to God and deepened her faith in ways that would otherwise not have been possible. I believe her deepened faith allowed her to endure the suffering of her cancer diagnosis with grace, hope and trust.
The fall season is a time of unspeakable beauty both in the physical and spiritual worlds. The splendor of the multi-colored leaves reminds us that there are a myriad of different saints ready to accompany us on our daily journey. Each saint is unique, just like each fall leaf has a different color and shape. Through prayer and a bit of research, we can discover the saints who belong in our gang of friends. I highly encourage you to seek their intercession because after all “we are all in this together and the saints help us to draw closer to God every day.” I know my mom would agree.
“Saint Padre Pio, Saint Mother Teresa, Saint Therese, Saint John Paul II, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, Servant of God Dorothy Day, Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint Joan of Arc – PRAY FOR US!