For All the Saints – Constance and Her Companions

Last week, I took up the notion of survivor guilt and at least one bible path through it. I suggested, there, that shared experience can be an invaluable link between people when it comes to giving and receiving care. Thus there is a distinct role for survivors in the care of victims.
The legacy of Constance and her companions pushes that model to its extreme. What does it mean for someone to survive the fate of an afflicted group (in this case, an outbreak of Yellow Fever in Memphis in the late 19th century), decided against caution to stay and minister to the afflicted, only to succumb to the very disease that you were trying to ease?
This is the story of a woman named Constance, the members of the religious order that she led and several other priests and monastics, both Anglican and Roman Catholic who died in Memphis is the last part of the 19th century.  They are known collectively as th Martyrs of Memphis and their feast is celebrated this week.
Constance and her companions are not exactly a shining example of the power and often tail of survivor guilt well managed. I don’t really believe that they did what they did out of particular sense of guilt at all. Rather, their actions pointed to a deeper truth of God in their lives and a desire to demonstrate the love of Christ to the most heavily afflicted in their community. Thus they are examples of quality ethical thinking and the kind of moral action to which I believe we all ultimately ascribe.
However, their witness does have something to say to those of who are wrestling with what life means in the wake (or even the process, I think) of tragedy. As I mentioned last week, the power and potential for good that flows from shared experience is not to be underestimated. Those who have shared common cause, or common strife are bonded in a way that can ultimately promote healing.
And here we see the reflection of Jesus in the lives of such care givers  – and even more clearly in the lives f the Martyrs of Memphis. God could have chosen any of a number of ways to redeem the world from Sin and brokenness. Almost inexplicably, he chose to forsake elements of divinity and join the experience of those he desired to help. Moreover, and hauntingly like Constance and her Companions, he so fully engaged in the human experience that he even shared in the ultimate suffering of our race, death.
We’ve often talked about Saints as being “Christian Heroes”, those who have shared something of our commitment to faith that we should seek to emulate. There is another operative definition, thought that I think makes more sense in the case of someone who has died “for the cause.”  A saint, in this case is someone who’s life is so patterned on that of Jesus that the truth of the Gospel is evident without a lot of explaination.
For the people in Memphis at the turn of the 20th century, Constance and her companion were AS CHRIST. Such exacting models of the saving work of Jesus that no one could have mistaken them.
… and I mean to be one, too.

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