Tuesday, November 1, 2016
Called to be messengers of mercy and tenderness
Let me begin today with a bit of an informal poll. By a show of hands, how many of you would say you are a saint? How many want to be a saint? And, finally, how many would like to go to Heaven at the end of our lives?
Today on this Solemnity of All Saints, we heard a question proclaimed from the Book of Revelation that 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?
It’s hard to believe that one of our newest saints, Saint Pope John Paul II, passed away 11 years ago already, but you might remember the amazing scene of his funeral attended by millions in Rome and televised around the world. One of the incredible parts of that Mass were the numerous signs and the vocal chants in St. Peter’s Square of, “Santo Subito!” or loosely translated, “Make him a saint immediately.” The late, great 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.
So, “who are these wearing white robes, and where did they come from?” The great answer to this question about those in white robes is that they, my brothers and sisters, are us. 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. In my informal poll, I asked two questions – one about being saints, the other about going to Heaven. Notice how few hands went up for the first question and how many went up for the last one. And yet, they are truly same question. If you want to go to Heaven, as most of you said, you are saying that you want to be a saint. After all, that is all that a saint is – someone who lived a life worthy of heaven. Becoming saints is the common call of each one of us.
But, as much as we focus on how much they are like God, we are also called to remember especially today – the saints are also like us. They did not enter into the world as perfect and holy. They did not receive an extra dose of God’s grace to become the holy women and men that they were. They did not receive something that we have not. They are just like us. They were born into families. They had joys and struggles. They had sins they struggled with and spiritual victories they rejoiced in. But, in the end, they lived lives that were more and more journeys toward the Lord. They made God the priority and followed His will; His path; His call. And, so can we.
How do we become saints? Jesus has given us the best instructions for attaining the sainthood our hearts desire. “Those in white robes” we heard about have followed that good instruction. And they are crowned as God’s heroes, God’s holy ones. The instruction that Jesus gave is the one 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.”
And Pope Francis in his own homily today said we are called “to confront the troubles and anxieties of our age with the spirit and love of Jesus.” And the Pope added a new list of Beatitudes for modern Christians. He said, “Blessed are those who remain faithful while enduring evils inflicted on them by others and forgive them from their heart. Blessed are those who look into the eyes of the abandoned and marginalized and show them their closeness. Blessed are those who see God in every person and strive to make others also discover him. Blessed are those who protect and care for our common home. Blessed are those who renounce their own comfort in order to help others. Blessed are those who pray and work for full communion between Christians.”
“All these are messengers of God’s mercy and tenderness,” Pope Francis said. “Surely they will receive from him their merited reward.”
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, God has given us the same grace, the same call, the same possibility as all of those who have been memorialized in the statues in our church and the stained glass of our windows. They were just like us and we can be just like them. The only difference is our choice. It’s up to us to live as though we too will one day be saints.
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. Leon Bloy wrote, “There is only one sadness in life: not to be a saint.”
“Who are these wearing white robes?” My friends, they are us.
May the Lord give you peace.