At General Convention in 2009, the church passed a large number of additions to Lesser Feasts and Fasts, our commemoration calendar. Even though some of the names suggested met with serious objections, the resolution passed overwhelmingly. The year of trial usage ended June 30, although the resource will continue to be used, with its passage in 2012 nearly assured. I voted against it, and the more that I have though about this, the stronger I feel about this issue.
Until recently, the Church’s commemoration calendar has been a slowly evolving item. It took time for a consensus to emerge for a particular person to be added to the commemorations of the whole Church. Take the failed efforts of some quite well-meaning church members to add King Charles, the alleged martyr, to our corporate prayers.
Then the Standing Liturgical Commission came up with a long list of new names for us to remember. My radar when on. Here is what I concluded. Only a church led by baby boomers would be audacious and self-centered enough to believe that we are entitled to add to our commemorations so many people at one time. Past generations exercised restrain and modesty in adding people (and removing them).
As a boomer, I have known for some time that my generation believes itself the most enlightened that has ever lived on the planet. I would contend that Holy Women, Holy Men says more about our generation than the people we intend to honor. It has been said that tradition is the living vote of those who have gone before us. Most boomers consider those who have gone before us as not worthy of a vote. No wonder we find such blatant inflation of the list by those who believe ourselves most worthy of choosing.
In addition, the criterion seemed to be the ever-invasive “inclusiveness” that now dominates the thinking of current Church leaders. Not only are many of these persons not Christians, but several were openly hostile to the Christian Church. Why should we commemorate them? No other organization would make its honor roll of those who wished their own organization cease to exist. This is not a list of “holy” women or men. Holiness in any classical sense of the term was never a serious criterion. The better title would have been Women and Men of Good Intentions and Deeds.
The historic commemorations include people who were saints in the real sense of the word. They are martyrs, witnesses and servants of extraordinary sacrifice. When we think of Francis, or Anthony, or Hilda, or Constance, we are thinking of people through whom the light of Christ, their savior, shone brightly. They did not just do good things that should be appreciated by other humans. They led holy lives that pointed to something, or rather someone, beyond themselves.
Lastly, I would cite the consequence of this sudden inflation of names. In a very real sense, the saints are the most valuable commodity of God’s reign on earth in every generation. They are the examples that point all of us to a further life of service and holiness in God’s Kingdom, as the old hymn says: “And I want to be one too.” They tell us, to paraphrase G.K. Chesterton, that Christianity has not been tried and found wanting, it has been found hard and therefore not tried. The saints and those we commemorate in the old Lesser Feasts and Fasts give us a glimpse of what can happen if Christianity, true discipleship, is found hard yet lived. These folks are in a very real sense the currency of the Kingdom. As we all know, when a nation or community decides to simply print more currency, it does no spread the wealth. The consequence is exactly the opposite; it devalues the currency.
This is my most serious objection to the well-intended Holy Women, Holy Men. Its consequence is not to inspire the kind of holiness of life that our former commemorations did for us. Its true consequence is to make the term holy almost meaningless.
I draw one last consolation in all this. History has taught me that a future generation, perhaps not very long from now, will simply look at our actions in this matter and ask, “Who did these people think they were?” That may be the most important question raised by this action: not who were these people we added in so great a number, but who were we to act in such a self-centered and self-absorbed way? They will only need to look at how few saints our generation has produced to grasp the answer.
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