Sunday, January 20, 2008

Called to be saints!

Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, January 20, 2008:

I want to start today by conducting a very informal poll. How many of you would say that you are a saint?

Let me tell you a story about King Henry III of Bavaria in the 11th Century. He was a God-fearing king but the demands of being a ruler did not leave him much time for his spiritual life. One day he got so fed up with being a king that he went to the Abbot of the local monastery and asked to be admitted as a monk for the rest of his life. “Your Majesty,” said the Abbot, “do you understand that you must make a vow of obedience as a monk? That will be hard because you have been a king.” “I understand,” said Henry. “The rest of my life I will be obedient to you, as Christ leads you.” “Then I will tell you what to do,” said the Abbot. “Go back to your throne and serve faithfully in the place where God has put you.” King Henry returned to his throne, ruled his people in a very godly way, and thus became a saintly king.

In today’s second reading, St. Paul reminds us that we are all “called to be saints.” He reminds us that holiness or saintliness – they are the same – is not a call that God places in the lives of just a few. It is not meant to be rare, but rather the norm. You know, Pope John Paul II, canonized more saints than all popes before him combined, and he very consciously canonized not just priest and religious, but people from every state of life so that we might be reminded when we look at the saints that they are like us and that we too are called to be like them.

Like King Henry we sometimes believe that we need to run away from the demands of life and escape to a monastery, a convent or the desert, if we want to become a saint. But, as the Abbot reminds us, God expects us to be saints in the concrete situations of our personal, family and business or professional lives.

This is a perfect reflection as we begin Ordinary Time in the Church calendar. As we begin this period of Ordinary Time, the Church reminds us that holiness is meant to be very ordinary, very common.

Let’s look at what St. Paul says, “Paul…to the church of God that is in Corinth, to you who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be holy, with all those everywhere who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

There are two interesting points in this verse. First, Paul does not address the word of God to the Corinthians alone but also to “all those everywhere who call upon the name of our Lord” That includes even us gathered here today to call on the Lord’s name. Secondly, Paul refers to the people he is writing to as men and women “called to be holy” or called to be saints. Again that includes us. We may not feel like we are saints yet, but that is the purpose for which God has called us. We are all called to holiness.

A saint or someone who has been sanctified literally means someone who has been set apart. That God has called us to be saints means that God means for us to be special people in the world, not people who simply follow the crowd wherever the current wind blows.

For some of us the call of God may require a change of state in life. God may require of us what Jesus required of his disciples, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” The life of such a disciple is a life-long quest for perfection according to the mind of Jesus.

For most of us, however, God calls us to be His faithful children in the midst of the trials and challenges of normal life in society. The call of God is that we be in the world but not of the world. We participate fully in society, in politics, in business, in education, in health-care delivery, and in dispensing justice through making and implementing just laws. Our world needs holy parents, holy children, holy doctors and nurses, holy teachers, holy garbage collectors, farmers – wherever we find ourselves, whatever we do.

Shortly after he converted to Catholicism in the late 1930s, Thomas Merton was walking the streets of New York with his friend, Robert Lax. Lax was Jewish, and he asked Merton what he wanted to be, now that he was Catholic. “I don’t know,” Merton replied, adding simply that he wanted to be a good Catholic. Lax stopped him in his tracks. “What you should say,” he told him, “is that you want to be a saint!” Merton was dumbfounded. “How do you expect me to become a saint?” Merton asked him. Lax said: “All that is necessary to be a saint is to want to be one. Don’t you believe that God will make you what He created you to be, if you will consent to let him do it? All you have to do is desire it.”

My brothers and sisters, to be a saint is to be ourselves – the person God created us to be. God has called us to be saints. All of us here today are called to be holy. Let us each desire to live saintly lives and may God consent to make each of us saints.

May God give you peace.

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