Autumn is my favorite season. Despite what many people say, we California natives do recognize that there are seasons here. As the temperatures drop (a bit), there is a refreshing crispness in the air, and with it, the sky becomes bluer. This year, with the unexpected rain we’ve had, grasses are already returning to the chaparral, so the hills are turning ever-so-slightly green. It feels like a real season of hope.
All Saints Day and All Souls Day add to this seasonal feeling. For me, these are the holy days that help me see my place in this rich and diverse tradition of our Franciscan Catholic faith. These are the days that invite me to push the pause button and take time to make space and reflect on the people who have influenced my faith; inspired me through their lives, choices, and struggles; and offer me hope for both this life and the next.
“One of the things I love most about these days are the stories we hear of all the faithful — saintly and otherwise.”
One of the things I love most about these days are the stories we hear of all the faithful — saintly and otherwise. We come to know about saints, ancestors, and families through stories we share. Along the way, we come to know ourselves. For me, I have a special sense of gratitude for the spiritual practice of storytelling, because I can honestly say it is through stories that I was able to return to my Christian faith.
I had been raised Lutheran but left the faith during my second semester in college. This happened the same semester that I started studying Francis of Assisi and the Franciscan spiritual tradition. What I can say is this: God has a way of reaching out in ways we can understand. And for me, the academic study of the Christian faith — and in particular the Franciscan saints and faithful laity — was the hook.
“Stories about Francis and to learn about his struggles with mental illness, his bouts with depression, and what we know today to be post-traumatic stress.”
As a young adult, I was compelled to look beyond the simple, animal-loving stories about Francis and to learn about his struggles with mental illness, his bouts with depression, and what we know today to be post-traumatic stress. Even after his initial conversion to the faith, he continued to grow through ongoing conversion experiences, often through encounters with his fellow friars that frustrated him.
Rather than dismissing or bypassing difficult situations, Francis prayed and worked through them and admitted to his less comfortable emotions, such as anger and impatience. The stories that appealed to me as a young adult (and still inspire me) are those in which Francis was compelled to revitalize his commitment to his faith throughout his life. Then as now, the stories about his very-human lived experience of faith gave me hope.
But it wasn’t just the stories of saints like Francis that have inspired me.
“Learning how all people — or all souls — begin to forge their faith intrigued me.”
Even as a college student, learning how all people — or all souls — begin to forge their faith intrigued me. The stories of lay people who gravitate to Francis’ way of living through their experiences of widowhood, poverty, and challenging family relationships resonated. “Oh,” I realized, “being a person of faith isn’t about a happy-go-lucky acceptance of what happens. There can be real wrestling with life — and yes, even with God.” I began to hear the stories my grandparents and parents would tell of their challenges as immigrants in a new way. But the stories that touched me most were of my relatives’ personal foibles. Their stories, as with Francis’, gave me great relief and hope.
See overview: University of San Diego – Master of Theological Studies
We share our faith through stories: of the saints we love, the family we come from, and this rich, diverse Catholic tradition of lived experience. This storytelling practice reveals so much about who we are, what we aspire to, and what hope we hold on to. In the Solemnities of All Saints and All Souls, before or after the liturgies of the days — perhaps over a shared meal, a phone call, or a walk with a loved one — you might consider sharing the stories that have inspired you.
You never know — you may just be sharing the hope that someone needs to bring their faith back into the light.
Darleen Pryds is the Associate Professor of Spirituality and History at the Franciscan School of Theology at the University of San Diego. She is the author of many articles and books on laity in the Franciscan tradition. She converted to Catholicism in 1999.