Thursday, October 31, 2013

Saints among us

HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF ALL SAINTS, November 1, 2013:

“Who are these wearing white robes, and where did they come from?” Today on this
Stepping out of St. Peter's
last Tuesday morning
Solemnity of All Saints, this question that we heard proclaimed from the Book of Revelation echoes out to us, “Who are these wearing white robes, and where did they come from?”  Or perhaps, closer to our own language, who are these saints that we celebrate today and how did they become saints?

I was fortunate enough to be in Rome for a meeting of friars last week and as a great honor, on Tuesday, we celebrated Mass in the crypt of St. Peter’s Basilica in front of the tomb of St. Peter himself.  The feast that day was the Memorial of Blessed Pope John Paul II – who will become Saint Pope John Paul II next April. After Mass, I went upstairs into the main body of St. Peter’s where our beloved former Pope’s body now is located at a side altar for public veneration to say a prayer and I couldn’t help but recall his funeral Mass a few years ago which took place at that same site.  You might remember the incredible scene as people waved numerous signs and chanted, “Santo Subito!” or loosely translated, “Make him a saint immediately.”  The late Holy Father had lived such a public life that witnessed to holiness that those gathered to lay him to rest could do nothing less than acclaim the sanctity of this holy man who lived in our day, in our time, in our midst.  “Santo Subito” proclaimed the widespread popular belief that John Paul had lived the kind of life that made him a saint in God’s presence, and thus worthy of the Church’s veneration as a saint.

But, “who are these wearing white robes, and where did they come from?”  The great message of this celebration today, is that they, my brothers and sisters, are us.  Ironically, perhaps, today’s celebration is actually not about all of the holy men and women who have gone before us and now enjoy an eternity in God’s presence; but rather it is about the common call that each of us who are baptized share to become one of them.  All Saints Day is not a celebration of the few-and-far-between who have attained the glory of heaven.  It is a celebration of our common call to follow Jesus, to be holy, to live the life of the saints.

The famous mystic Benedictine, Thomas Merton, once asked a friend, “How does one become a saint?”  The answer, “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.”  We must first desire to be saints, instead of saying to ourselves that sainthood is out of our reach.

So, how do we show that desire?   How do we become saints? Jesus gives us the best instructions for attaining the sainthood our hearts desire. The 144,000 we heard about in the first reading followed that good instruction.  They are crowned as God’s heroes, God’s holy ones.  What instruction did they follow?  The same we heard in the Gospel: the Beatitudes.  Blessed, or saintly, are we when we are poor in spirit, when we mourn, when we are meek, when we hunger and thirst for righteousness, when we are merciful, and clean of heart, when we are peacemakers, or persecuted for the sake of righteousness.  These are God’s best instructions for living as followers of Jesus Christ, as saints-in-training.  “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.”

Few of us would expect chants of “Santo Subito” at our funeral.  If we are honest, we know that we often fail at fully following the Gospel teaching of Jesus.  But, our human life in this world is destined to become eternal life with God in the next.  We must live as though we believe that, as though we desire that. Today, on this festival day in honor of all the saints, named and unnamed, the veil between our earthly world and the heavenly world parts just a little bit.  With the eyes of faith, we get some glimpse of the happiness and glory to which God has called his innumerable sons and daughters throughout the ages; the glory he calls us to as well. Let us all live as though destined for that same glory.  It was once said that, “there is only one sadness in life: not to be a saint.” 

My brothers and sisters, we celebrate this day all of those saints, those women and men who have successfully lived that life of faith all the way to glory, and we remember that we too are called to that same glory.  We remember that to be a saint, “All you have to do is desire it.”


May God give you peace.

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