Tuesday, November 02, 2010

All Souls

All Souls hides in the shadow of All Saints, but it is actually one of my favorite days in the liturgical year, because it makes clear the point that even nonheroic virtue is worthy of remembrance. Even saints have flaws and lapses -- there is not a one in the calendar who did not sometimes fail to do the right thing -- and the rest of us go farther and just bungle things on every side: our resolutions often broken, our vices recurring, our virtues unimpressive, our faith not even a mustard-seed, our campaigns of self-reform less conquest than fiasco, and the moral life a long, hard slog. But so it goes, and there is no room for despair; though at times we crawl through the mud like worms, there still may be victory in the end. It is fitting for there to be a Feast for All Ordinary People who Muddle Through: we too have victory, we too witness, and we too are to be commemorated. Little virtues are virtues nonetheless, and little triumphs triumphs; and though we sometimes scarcely transcend farce, even the farcical may live for the good and the true.

That's a joshing way to put it, but the point is actually rather serious: one of the serious moral failings encouraged by our culture seems to be the inability to see a fault without seeing a smear. But not all faults smear everything else; not all failings corrupt the whole; not all flaws are reasons to repudiate the rest. It is entirely possible to recognize the flaws and faults of someone, frankly and honestly, without taking those flaws and faults to depreciate the person; entirely possible to see that someone is not a saint but a moral bungler and love them whole-heartedly nonetheless. And most of us should be very thankful for that. All of us, actually; even those we call saints are just those who have bungled but had some splendid successes.

And so it is good that on this day we consider All the Rest of Us, flawed and faulty, often failing, often foolish, rarely outstanding. And we are right to insist that our parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins and neighbors, friends and foes, who never, ever would be confused with a St. Francis or St. Teresa, rub elbows with them nonetheless; and to insist equally positively that they be remembered with much the same sort of love and reverence. It is the great and heartening paradox: the Kingdom of Virtue has no snobbery, the Kingdom of Heaven is open to all, and those who are far from saintly may yet, if true-hearted, feast with the saints.

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