Last night was Halloween, and now in my adult years come two of my favorite days in the Church calendar: today All Saints Day and tomorrow All Souls Day. Once it used to be about candy but now, perhaps fitting for a blog bearing the name it does, it's now about something we come to know better as we age: remembering the many who've died. Some saintly, some not so much; some loved, some not, some loved more than they should've been, and others less so.
This post's title honors Bill Placher, long time Wabash College professor and a dear friend and guide of mine for so many years. At his funeral in 2008, the assembled sang--as per his request--"For All the Saints" (at, also at his request, a vigorous tempo--no woeful mourning here!). As I wrote last year, I've always treasured that request and that hymn. These days ask annually for time needed to remember our own humanity (so much for the candy) and that of others. All jokes aside about the intellectual state of current undergraduates, students "get" death and remembrance, largely because they've seen people die and be buried. They often don't possess the tools with which to understand fully such things, but it isn't unfamiliar territory. Always a good time and place to throw in the great G. K. Chesterton line: "
“Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about.”
It took a while but those lines--and the How and Williams hymn--also remind us of the saints whose influence and guidance we perhaps don't want to admit. For me this ranges from some family members to Dorothy Day to saints like Pope St. Pius X and blessed Raphael Cardinal Merry del Val. So often we seek the saints who look, think, and act like us--and that's the way it should be, at least most of the time. But what about those saints whose lives call us to some other, higher, and perhaps even more strenuous and rigorous life? Just as diet and exercise aren't always fun but are necessary elements of any physical health regimen, what about the not-fun parts of spiritual health? Who are the spiritual fitness instructors we dislike (and/or fear) but whose requirements we recognize we need (somehow) to follow?