Saturday, January 14, 2017

Called to be holy


I would like to conduct an informal poll this morning. By a show of hands, how many of you would say that you are a saint?

King Henry III was King of Bavaria in the 11th Century. He was a God-fearing man but the demands of being king did not leave him much time for his spiritual life. One day he got so tired of being 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. The Abbot said, “Your Majesty, 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. “But, for the rest of my life I will be obedient to you, as Christ leads you.” The Abbott responded, “Good, here is what you must do. Go back to your throne and serve faithfully in the place where God has put you.” King Henry returned to his throne and he ruled his people with kindness and justice, in holiness. He was a saintly king.

In our second reading today St. Paul addresses us as those “who have been sanctified in Jesus Christ, called to be holy.” Paul is reminding us of that essential fact – we are all “called to be holy.” Now “holy” is just another word for “saint.” So if we are all called to be holy, my friends, we are all called to be saints! Holiness or saintliness is not a call that God places in the lives of just a few. Saintliness is not meant to be rare, but rather the norm for the followers of Jesus. We have been fortunate to live in an age of great saints – St. Mother Teresa comes to mind almost immediately to everyone just in the last few years, St. Pope John XXIII and St. Pope John Paul II were both canonized as saints.

Did you know that as Pope, St. John Paul canonized more saints than all popes before him combined? And he consciously canonized not just priests and religious, but he made saints of men and women from every state of life; every age group; every occupation; married, widowed, single. He did this for a reason – so that we might all be reminded when we look at the saints that they are like us and so we are called to be like them, “called to be holy”.

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 reminded Henry, God expects us to be saints in the concrete situations of our personal, family and business or professional lives. Or stated another way, we are called to bloom where we have been planted.

As we leave Christmas behind end enter Ordinary Time, the Church reminds us that holiness is not meant to be extraordinary; it is not meant to be rare. Holiness is meant to be very ordinary, very common – it is meant to be in the reach of every baptized person. Let me ask a different question: by a show of hands, who hopes to get to Heaven? Many more hands this time, and yet, that is the very same question that I asked before. Who gets to Heaven? Saints do. Heaven is full of saints! We are all meant to be saints! While we may not feel like we are saints yet, that is the purpose for which God has called us. We are all called to holiness.

That God has called us to be “saints” doesn’t mean that we are called to be perfect and never without sin, it means that God wants us to be different than other people in the world. He wants us not to simply follow the crowd, but to blaze a new path – one that is marked by kindness, compassion, joy, forgiveness and healing. These are the tools of the saints, the tools of holiness. 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, the famous Trappist, Thomas Merton, was walking the streets of New York with a friend who 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. His friend 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. His friend 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, one last question today – how many of us want to be saints? I hope it is all of us! Here’s the good news: to be a saint is nothing more complicated than to be ourselves – to be 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.

You may remember that at his funeral Mass, the crowds cried out for St. Pope John Paul, "Santo Subito!" or "Make him a saint immediately!" Let us make that the mission statement of our own lives; let us all pledge to be on the road to holiness, on the road to sainthood today. Santo subito!

May the Lord give you peace.

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