Sunday, November 1, 2015

Hidden Saints

A few of the saints...
Readings for Sunday, November 1/ All Saints Day:
Revelation 7:2-4, 9-14

Psalm 24
1 John 3:1-3
Matthew 5:1-12

Today we have the joy of celebrating in the Sunday celebration the feast of All Saints, that blessed feast when we call to mind the great crowd on men and women who have gone before us and reign gloriously with Jesus in Heaven. One of the awesome points is the universality expressed by such a fact: that all are called to Heaven. Male and female, rich and poor, old and young, regardless of time or place or any other factor that is found in this world. If you are a human, you are called to heavenly life, called to be a saint.

In other homilies I’ve mentioned the fact rather clearly that you and I are called to be saints and from time to time I hear remarks to the effect that ‘Father, I certainly can’t be a saint!’ My response is simply this: you can and you must, for there is but one fate for those who are not saints and it’s not a pleasant one. To be a saint is not necessarily to be a superhero of the spiritual life. Too often when we think of saints we call to mind those great men and women of faith whose lives are models of sanctity to which it would indeed be difficult for us to attain. St. Jean Vianney would survive for days at a time on a few meager bites of old potatoes. St. Pio of Pietrelcina endured the wounds of the stigmata for some 50 years. St. John Paul II was shot in an assassination attempt and them went to forgive the shooter personally. St. Francis of Assisi in his zeal to strip himself of all earthly things began to give away his possessions and when confronted by his father who said, ‘You cannot give everything away, for that tunic was purchased with my money!’ stripped himself naked in the middle of town and went away to go find some scraps of cloth with which to make a new wardrobe. Now, I’m pretty sure we’re not called to strip naked in town at this point, that was presumably one of those events that just had to happen once in the life of the Church to mark it off the list. I mean, we’re going to be in Heaven for eternity, it’s good to have a great store of stories to fall back on to tell! But more seriously, those are the images we often recall when we think of saints, but the truth is that for every one of those great saints there is a great number of humble quiet saints who are enjoying the fruit of a life lived well, though not notably. Is this not what we profess in our faith?

As I was driving around the area blessing graves this weekend I noticed the great many cemeteries in the area – family cemeteries, public ones, and ones connected to various congregations – all full of stones marking the faithful departed. How many thousands just in our little slice of the world have died with the belief that they would be given the reward of their labors in this life? Are they not saints? I sure hope they are, or at least on their way!

Regardless of whether one’s life is a light shining on a mountaintop for the world to see or hidden in the Heart Christ, the call remains the same: to become saints. And to accomplish this we look to those who have gone before us as models and intercessors. The prayers of the Mass remind us of these realities over and over. They are models for us to follow, images into which we look and discern how we might imitate them. Here is the beauty of the universality of the saints in Heaven – that there’s a patron saint for anything and everything you can endure in this life. Are you a teenager (most of us here aren’t) but there’s a patron saint for you – St. Maria Goretti, whose relic happens to be here on the altar today. Do you like shooting handguns? There’s a patron saint of handgunners, St. Gabriel of the Sorrowful Mother, who is also here on the altar. Do you suffer from headaches? St. Teresa of Avila is the patron saint of people who suffer from headaches. Did you know there’s a patron saint of the internet? True story. It’s St. Isidore, who happens also to be the patron saint of farmers. Maybe the Church in her wisdom is subtly telling those who spend much time on the internet to go outside and play in the dirt once in a while? These and others are the ones who have walked the paths before us and provide us a model of how to live and can intercede for us on account of their special connections to us. Just as we’re attracted to people with whom we have things in common, so it is with the saints. And not just that – there are saints we can pray to as patrons of our parish, diocese, ones whose feast lies on our birthday, baptismal day, confirmation, wedding, children’s birthday and more. Saints all over the place! And rightly so. It’s the normal course of the Christian life to become a saint, Pope Francis reminds us, but it is a course that must be chosen. And here is the key to everything: choosing.

St. Paul of the Cross
The closing line of the reading from Revelation that we heard noted the great crowd before John, saying of them, “These are the ones who have survived the great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” They survived the great distress. In other words, they bore the cross God offered to them. They knew that the cross of Jesus was His throne of glory and their own crosses were the ladders to heaven and they rejoiced to climb them. This is how to become saints: by accepting what comes our way from Christ in such a way as to turn it into our glory. To do all things for love of Jesus. And if you struggle with carrying your cross, St. Paul of the Cross founded the Passionist Fathers, whose community shows us the joy of the cross - he's here on the altar too. Pray to him. Pray to all of them. Pray that we can become the saints we’re called to be.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us.
St. Joseph, pray for us.
St. Ann, pray for us.
St. Vincent de Paul, pray for us.

All you holy men and women, pray for us.