By Charles W. Sidoti
Life can be lonely at times. It is also true, however, that we are never really alone. In many religions, certain men’s and women’s lives of faith stand out in such a way that they serve as examples for others. Some religions call them saints, while others do not. But most have their great men and women whose lives inspire those who read or hear about them.
There are also people found in many faith traditions whose life stories, though less well-known than saints, nonetheless are an inspiration to the faithful. These could be authors, speakers, clergy, or laypeople. They might simply be caring, courageous people whose life stories serve to lead others on their own spiritual journey. There are people we have known personally, living and deceased, including family members, friends, coworkers, and acquaintances, who have helped and taught us in the way of faith. The point is that the lives of others, the famous and the well-known, as well as those in our everyday lives, touch and influence us in deep, meaningful ways.
One thing I find most beautiful about the Catholic faith is the Communion of Saints. In this theological reflection, I will share with you what the teaching means to me, and how I integrate this belief into my spiritual life. The beauty of the Communion of Saints is that it serves to remind us of our basic connectedness to one another as human beings. The Communion of Saints, however, goes a step further by saying that this connectedness is not bound or limited by the power of death. Our love and unconditional regard for one another transcend space, time, and even death.
One day I was sitting in the hospital chapel, praying about something that was worrying me. As I sat there, feeling kind of sorry for myself, I began thinking about the lives of such well-known biblical figures as Moses and Abraham. And it occurred to me that they, too, had to live their lives by faith, just like me.
We tend to see such biblical figures as larger than life and living with some mysterious advantage that we don’t have. But when we fail to see them as regular people, we limit how helpful their lives and stories can be to us. We sometimes see them as having an inside track to God, kind of like having the “God card” hidden in their back pocket to use when they need it. In Scripture, it can seem as if God broke through the clouds during their times of crisis to speak with them directly, giving them the advice they needed. We ignore the fact that God has ways of speaking with us, too, offering the same guidance in our lives. What set these biblical heroes apart is how receptive (open) they were to God’s message.
The value to us in the lives of those biblical figures is that they were human, that they had to walk in our shoes, really walk our path. I felt connected to them when I realized that living a life of faith was as challenging for them as for me. I found myself calling upon their faith to come into my being. I said these words in a prayer, “Faith of Abraham and Moses, come unto me. Faith of Mary and Joseph, come unto me.” I immediately felt a connection that was both consoling and comforting, and that has remained with me. It is a peace that transcends time and space and the separation of religions, a spiritual connection.
Many people, myself included, feel a connection with loved ones or special people who have gone on before us in death. We come to know that the love and guidance we enjoyed with these special people did not end with death. Because of physical death, however, the way we experience the relationship changes.
It is not uncommon to hear people say that their deceased loved one lives on in their heart. In our daily lives we help, console, comfort, and pray for one another all the time. The Communion of Saints acknowledges that the bonds of love, support and connectedness that we have with others in this life are not limited in any way. It brings to our conscious awareness that in a transcendent and meaningful way, we are all connected. We are already one.
Charles W. Sidoti, BCC, is coordinator of spiritual care at South Pointe Hospital, Cleveland Clinic Health System. He is the author of “Living at God’s Speed, Healing in God’s Time” and “Simple Contemplative Spirituality.”