Communion with the Saints
In 2016, as we were preparing to walk through the Holy Doors, of Saint Peter’s Basilica, during the Year of Mercy, I prayed to and for “our ancestors of spirit”. I was caught by that phrase I had not used before and soon there after, I was able to connect to a deeper meaning of the “communion of saints”. If unfamiliar, “the communion of saints” is part of the final lines that we recite in the Apostle’s Creed, which is suspected to have first appeared in a letter to Pope Siricius from Saint Ambrose of Milan in 390A.D.. The design of this creed is to be a reminder of our faith, as an individual within a spiritual community.
In the final lines of the Apostles Creed (found on page 96 in the Book of Common Prayer) reads, “I believe…., in the communion of saints”, which appears in the middle of several other declarations to connect us into our faith. We make this declaration out loud whether it is in a rosary group, morning prayer or in the privacy of home. This is also how we acknowledge our place as one of those saints when we accept the Eucharist to become a part of our body and the Church body.
It is also where I found further understanding of faith communities. The communion of saints, are our collective stories that continue on when we no longer walk upon the Earth or even at our home Parrish. The saints we sit beside in chapels, naives, Parrish halls and sanctuaries are a part of the communion of saints, not just the holy people we honor on feast days. Each encounter we have is a part of that thread of communion that continues, beyond our immediate existence.
The continued thread of communion moves toward the other parts of our lives, outside of church buildings. The communion of saints, connects us in all directions of time, as there are saints yet to come. We are accepting within our declaration an inner understanding of what the holy people who came before us learned, as we awaken to what we already hold within us. That awakening can unfurl along our contemplative journey of sitting with the Apostles creed. The act of saying the creed whether with a group or privately, helps to connect us with all others declaring these same beliefs of faith around the world.
The connections that may be easy to miss, are our actions that we take out into the world as a part of that communion. Taking ourselves out of our own story within acts of kindness or condolences or a smile or friendly greeting are a few other ways to participate in communion. In Buddhism kindness, sharing compassion such as a smile toward others, is also seen as generosity. Our generosity branches out even beyond our spiritual homes, when we are offering kindness toward others.
There are parishes and churches in different spots in the world that we have visited and participated in some way, whether morning prayer, private prayer in a pew or mass. We become a part of that spiritual thread, taking those traditions into our spiritual experience that we share with others. The thread of “the communion of saints” weaves through other areas of our life during travel and visiting with friends who have moved or friends we have met and grown close to through social media. Whether abroad or to a neighboring city, we carry the wisdom and generosity the saints from our home parishes have shared. We leave our footprint behind, in more ways than our ecological footprint.
Furthermore, I have been able to recognize on recent trips, which included visiting with friends and even friends visiting us, that we are taking that thread of communion into other parts of our lives. Even if it did not include worship or sitting down at a table and even if they do not believe spiritually the same, we were a part of a community melding together our collective life experiences. The generous offering of time and space to those we care about, further connects us to the communion of saints in all directions of time.
Our experiences in faith are personal in that only we understand the relationship we have with God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, within our spiritual lives. We do not ask others to get to our understanding in our spiritual life, but we meet our friends where our relationship is and it grows from there onward. This awareness of the “communion of saints”, in a way makes us diplomats of our faith and spirituality. Although, we do not have to have it all figured out and expected to be a theological scholar, we do need to be present to openness of our own spiritual presence. The “communion of saints”, is also the opportunity to choose how others see parts of our spiritual life and how we weave the universal thread of loving-kindness.