Saturday, October 31, 2009

Desiring sainthood


The famous Trappist monk Thomas Merton in his book Seven Storey Mountain relays a story of a conversation he had with a friend about sainthood and how to attain it. Merton was uncertain of what it would take, but his friend Robert simply reminded him, “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 find ourselves today in the midst of two of the most beautiful and intimately connected feasts in our Church year – All Saints Day which we celebrate today and All Souls Day which we will celebrate on Monday. These days are not only intimately connected, but they also reveal a very natural progression that we all go through when we lose a loved one. At first we react with shock and sympathy and grief. We let our “Lord have mercys” fall gently upon the souls of our beloved dead. But, as the days, weeks and months progress, we tend to move on to the questions of why. Why did they have to leave now? Where is my loved one? Are they now merely the victims of death?

To all the questions of the hereafter, the Church responds with these feasts. The celebration of All Saints Day is a rapturous reminder that the path to glory leads beyond the grave. Today, on this day, our restored, forgiven and glorified humanity is on show. Today’s feast is not the gala performance of the canonized – all of those named saints we know so well, whether Blessed Mother Teresa, Saint Padre Pio, Saint Francis, St. Leonard and so on – they have their days throughout the year. Today’s emphasis is on the rest of the saints in Heaven; perhaps even in particular the oh-so-many who will never be recognized by name.

The saints we celebrate throughout the year; whose lives are for us inspiration – perhaps because of their dramatic death for the faith, or the strength in which they lived their commitment to Christ – these saints are Heroes of the faith placed before us often in great drama. But, today we recall the every-man, the every-woman, the ordinary, the regular, the just-like-us saints who made it to the glory of heaven because they were - very simply, very profoundly - faithful to God in their lives.

Today’s feast is a celebration of the commonplace; the beatification of the ordinary; the vindication of the daisy rather than the rose. Today’s feast reminds us that common people – you and me – have an uncommon destiny. And the enduring title for these men and women who reach that Heavenly destiny is “saint.” They are not destined to become so much dust, but to see God as He truly is and be in His presence for ever. The people that you and I have loved in our lives, but have gone to their eternal reward, are now eternally loved by God in Heaven. His will is that they gather around His throne, the palm of victory in their hands. They are saints. And this we celebrate today.

But, this feast of All Saints is not just the feast of the blessed in Heaven. It is our feast day too. What the saints enjoy, what the holy souls anticipate, you and I are promised. Too often I hear people say that they could never be a saint. But, perhaps it is because they are only looking at the great heroes of faith and realizing that perhaps they would not have the courage to give their life for Christ. But we are, in fact, all called to be saints – most likely it will never be in a dramatic way; most likely it will be in the ordinariness of our every day lives continually being faithful to our God. Most likely, our names will not be enrolled in the calendar of saints celebrated by the Church. But, sainthood is ours if we only desire it and let God lead us to that heavenly destination.

And so, this promise on God’s part for our eternal happiness requires action on our part. The terms of this action are spelled out in today’s Gospel, the Sermon on the Mount. But some people hear this sermon and are dismayed. It can seem to imply that to get somewhere in the next life means getting nowhere in the this life. It is the poor, the mournful, the meek, and the hungry who will succeed. But, this is a false interpretation. Christ’s sermon is not an endorsement of destitution. It does not suggest that a dollar in your pocket is less Christian than a hole in your pants. It does insist, though, that worldly success and the accumulation of wealth are not ends in themselves. We are not here on earth to build an empire that magnifies ourselves; we are here primarily to serve, as Jesus served.

A truly Christian society matures not in selfishness but in service. Happiness for the Christian lies not in having, but in giving. The poor in spirit accumulate wealth insofar as they give away, insofar as they love God and transform His world with gentleness, mercy, compassion, forgiveness and peace.

One final point – the most important perhaps. This is God’s feast day too. Saints don’t make it on their own. Ultimately God makes it for them. The saints living successful Christian lives and eventually moving joyously around His throne in Heaven is evidence of God’s heart and love for us. All Saints Day is God’s heart translated into happy people. It is proof of His compassionate purpose, confirmation of His universal love for us, a triumphant vindication of His will for our salvation.

“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.”

God has created each of us for Heaven; for sainthood. As we gather around His altar, let us, in union with the saints above, give thanks to our God for His saving Grace.

May God give you peace.

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