a flower in the desert
Today Christians all over the world celebrate All Saints' Day. On this day the names of great men and women of the ages are recalled - those people who made a difference in their time, boldly and courageously following in the way of Christ, walking the way of faith.
Growing up I loved hearing stories about the lives of the Saints - biblical heroes like the apostles, Saint Paul (my patron saint), Saint Francis of Assisi- defender of the poor and needy, Saints John of the Cross and Theresa of Avila- mystics and poets. The list of saints went on and on, and their many stories were heroic and awe-inspiting to me - noble figures in stained-glass windows.
As the years went by I also realized that saints not only lived in bygone days but there were also saints who had lived in modern times. And so, I would look to the lives of great people like Dorothy Day or Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King Jr., or Mother Teresa of Calcutta - All great heroes of the faith even in our own day - exemplary models, men and women who laid down their lives in the service of others and lived their faith with courage.
Then one day, some years back, on an All Saints' Day like today, I was struck by the depressing thought that maybe there were no more saints left to be remembered anymore. Maybe the age of the heroes of the faith ended with people like Martin Luther King Jr. or Mother Teresa. I wondered to myself "where have all the heroes gone?"
After all, it's virtually impossible to find a politician today who people look up to as a modern-day saint. And who today is the great champion for the poor and the needy? And where are the great mystics or poets? Where in the world is that one great man or one great woman who is putting his or her life on the line in service to others, whose story we can tell, whose image we can place in a stained glass window?
Where have all the heroes gone?
I saw a news story a few days ago that pretty much answered my question.
Last week, 37 year-old Darnell Barton was driving a bus on the Scajaquada Expressway in Buffalo, New York (my home town). As he drove along a bridge high above the highway, he spotted a young woman on the other side of the guard rail. It soon became obvious that this young woman was about to jump onto the highway below and end her life.
Other cars spotted the woman and passed her by, pedestrians and bicyclists spotted her and passed her by, but not Darnell.
Darnell Barton is a big, burly football player-type of guy. When you look at him, your first impression is that he is anything but gentle. But as he stopped his bus and approached this young woman about to take her own life, he was the picture of tenderness.
He quietly assured her that all would be well, and when she finally climbed over the rail, back into safety, he sat next to her and held her in a gentle embrace until police and medics arrived and gave her the help she needed.
When Mr. Barton finally got back on his bus, full of passengers who had been watching this scenario unfold, everyone erupted into loud cheers and applause. Darnell Barton had become a hero.
When asked why he stopped to help that young woman, Darnell simply said, "I learned in church that we all got to help one another, so that's what I did."
Darnell Barton, age 37, will never make it to any list of the great men and women of faith. He will never be remembered on All Saints' Day. And yet, that image of Darnell Barton holding that woman by the side of the highway was about as tender as anything I have ever witnessed. It was a scene so very worthy of a stained glass window.
The age of the great saints has not ended. There are lots of heroes in our world.
The heroes are us!
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