Catholic Liturgy for the Solemnity of All Saints, Nov. 1, 2020. Gospel of St. Matthew 5:1—12. Theme: Real Saints, Real Holiness
Today’s gospel of the Beatitudes is one of the most familiar passages in all of the Gospels. Its description of the attitudes that make us “blessed”, which means “favored by God”, has often been called the “blueprint for Christian living”. The Beatitudes show us what thinking and living and loving like Jesus looks like. In other words, they show us what it means to live as a saint. I wonder how many of us know what we mean by the word “saint”?
I often wonder if we really have an accurate grasp of who the saints were as people? Is our understanding of them realistic and reachable? It seems to me that as soon as we officially start calling someone a “Saint” and begin putting a halo of light around their heads, they become out-of-reach. We then tend to put them on a pedestal to be admired from a safe distance. We surround ourselves with saints illustrated in stained-glass windows and set up memorial images of them decked with flowers and flanked with candles. Perhaps in our private devotions we even collect pictures of them on holy cards to be tucked away in our prayer-books and Bibles. Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with stained-glass windows, statues and holy cards. But to limit our interaction and devotion to the saints to those ways alone runs the risk of turning them into something safe and comfortable. And if we elevate them above us enough, I think it conveniently excuses us from having to become like them!
But if you know anything at all about the real lives of the saints, they were the farthest thing from safe and comfortable that you can get! Like Jesus, the saints challenged the complacent and comfortable lives of those who thought of themselves as devout religious people. When you read the testimonies of those who lived with the saints, you discover that life with them was not all sunshine and roses, not at all as pleasant as you might imagine it to be! This is because their burning love for God and neighbor, the seriousness with which they took the Gospels, and their dedication to justice for the poor and needy consumed them. And they expected that these things should consume everyone else who called themselves Christian!
The Church has made All Saints Day a holy day of obligation because we need this yearly reminder. We need to open our ears and our hearts to truly hear what this solemnity says to us. It’s a reminder that each and every one of us, by virtue of our baptism, are called to become saints. And it is a reminder that this call to sanctity is indeed reachable by any and all of us. Now we might hear this and laugh or shake our heads. We may even be tempted to dismiss it all together as an ideal that cannot be attained. But if we do so, we would be wrong. Very very wrong.
Because the great truth about the saints, something we seem to so easily forget, is that they were just like us in every way imaginable. And they came from every situation in life as well. There were saints who seemed to be on the right track to Heaven almost from the day they were born. And there were those whose life experience prior to their commitment to Christ was the furthest thing from being good and noble. Among those whom we now honor as our friends and intercessors in Heaven, there are those who were once thieves and murderers, prostitutes and playboys, death-row inmates and lying cheating charlatans. But the grace of God is more powerful that anything and when a heart truly turns to Christ all things can become new again from the inside out!
You see, the saints were flesh and blood human beings like you and me. They had their strengths and oh yes, they also had their weaknesses. They were sinners and strugglers just like us. At least that was how they began, but that wasn’t their whole story. It wasn’t how they ended up. They struggled toward holiness, sometimes stumbling, sometimes falling, but always getting back up and moving on, resolving to do better, to aim higher, to never give up. They kept their focus on Christ and sought to love God and neighbor as best they could. They trusted in power and presence of the Holy Spirit within them to make up for what they lacked.
So, let’s not dismiss the saints or our call to holiness as being beyond our experiences of life, beyond our reach. No one is born a saint, but every single one of us, by the grace of God, can indeed become one. And the fastest way to attain this goal, based upon the saints’ life experiences, is to draw close to Jesus truly present among us in the Eucharist, to have the spiritual vision to see Christ and serve him in those who suffer, and to trust that the grace of God can do way more in us that we could ever ask for or imagine!