Solemnity of All Saints
St. Mary – Derby, KS
Revelation 7:2-4, 9-12; Psalm 24:1b-6; 1 John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12a
(1) “Don’t we celebrate the saints enough already?”
As you know, there are days throughout the year set aside for the commemoration of certain saints. July 26th is St. Anne; October 16 is St. Margaret Mary; October 4 is St. Francis of Assisi; October 1 is Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, and on and on. And so while we have the tendency to use today, All Saints Day, to celebrate everyone who doesn’t get their own day—which is true!—this day has a much deeper significance for each one of us.
All Saints day is our reminder of what is truly important in this life! So important, that it is a holy day of obligation! It falls on Sunday this year, so we’re here anyway—but so important that every year the Church calls all of us to celebrate this day so that we can be reminded of this. Reminded of what? That “the only great tragedy in life, is not to become a saint” (Léon Bloy, in Francis, Gaudium et Exultate, 34). We are called here today to remember our great calling: to be a saint.
And I know it sounds cliché, I know. But at the same time, cliché as it may sound, we can so easily lose sight of it. We can forget that our supreme vocation in life, the thing that should be at the front of our mind each and every day is this: to become a saint. For many of us, we can easily get caught-up in the day to day tasks of our lives. We get caught up in the many things that demand our attention: getting our kids to school, work, bills, food, sleep. But, at the same time, we forget what it is all about in the first place: our call to holiness, our call to be a saint, our call to one day be one of those unnamed saints that we celebrate today.
(2) “Good Person” vs. “Baptized Person”
Now pause. Time-out. Do not hear what I am not saying. I did not just say, “We are called to be ‘good people’.” I didn’t just say, “The only great tragedy in life is not to be a ‘good person’.”
In the Gospels there are those tough scenes, scenes where we hear people say to Jesus, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, did we not drive out demons and in your name, perform many miracles in your name?” (Mt 7:22). Others say, “Lord, Lord, we ate and drank with you, we heard you teach in our streets” (Lk 13:26). And Jesus says, “Depart from me, I never knew you.” I mean, isn’t that us? We would say things like, “I believe in God. I went to church every once in a while. I prayed. I received my sacraments. I’m a good person.” But Jesus what does Jesus say to those people? What does he say? Jesus says, “Many will come to me saying, ‘Lord, Lord.’ Many will come saying, ‘I believe in God. I went to church. I said a prayer once in a while.’” But what does Jesus say to them? “Depart from me. I never knew you.”
Many people are deceived! Many think, “I’m a good person. I believe in God. I’m good.” I once had a couple that wanted to baptize their child, and I asked who they had chosen for godparents and where they went to church. And they said, “Oh, they’re atheist. But don’t worry, Father, they’re good people.”
There’s a big difference between being a good person, and being a Christian. There is a difference between being a good person, and living the life of a Baptized person. A big one.
(3) “So I have to pray all day?”
When we think of being Christian and Catholic, living the life of a Baptized person, we usually think it means something like this: say your prayers, go to Mass, pray the Rosary, be chaste, and live the American Dream of suburban Derby America. I once heard a homily where the tag line was, “When America blesses God, God blesses America.” But—and maybe I’m wrong—but it seems like Jesus had a different vision in mind. These Beatitudes we hear in our Gospel today are Jesus’ description of what living as his disciple, living in His Kingdom looks like. And the life of the Kingdom is one of “Blessedness.”
We have all heard the Beatitudes before, but maybe we don’t really think about them as that controversial or radical. Maybe we don’t think that they are too special. But think: Jesus just starts saying, “Blessed…Blessed…Blessed…” The word for “blessed” in the original Greek is makarios (μακάριος). In Greek literature, makarios is used to describe the gods, because only they were free from the sadness and problems of earthly, mortal life. Makarios is a word that usually describes those in society that are rich, and have a good education, and a good job, and a good social status. The “blessed” are the people who have it all. The “blessed” are those that take care of themselves, they are not a burden on others, they are not soaking up social aid, not asking for handouts from others. The “blessed” would be most of us here in this church. Just good ol’ Derbites.
But Jesus takes makarios to mean something much more like “fortunate.” “Blessed” makes it sound like we do something good and then God smiles down on us and blesses us. But the “fortunate,” Jesus says, the fortunate are those whose lives are like this. How fortunate are the poor; how fortunate are those who mourn; how fortunate are the meek; how fortunate are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness; how fortunate are the merciful; how fortunate are the pure in heart; how fortunate are the peacemakers; how fortunate are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. The “fortunate” are those who live like this.
And this is the point: these eight attitudes and states of life are almost the opposite of the American Dream. They are views as useless and even shameful: poor, mourning, meek, hungry, merciful, pure, peacemakers, persecuted? Really? And yet these are the eight attitudes that Jesus consecrates as those of the fortunate, those of the “gods.”
(4) “So what do I do?”
For myself, when I heard that I am supposed to be a saint, to live the life of the “fortunate,” I would always kinda laugh and think, “That’s nice, but…” I mean, yeah, I want “to go to heaven” and all, but that just sounded so abstract and out of my reach. After all, what does that look like? Day to day: what does it look like? Because, again, we all have those things which demand our attention each and every day. “I don’t have time to be a saint if that means I have to be at the church every day, or praying all the time, or going to mass all the time, living in destitution, or something like this.”
But that’s not it at all. “To be holy, to be a saint does not require being…a priest or a religious [or being at the church all the time].…We are all called to be holy [to be saints] by living our lives with love and by bearing witness in everything we do, wherever we find ourselves.…Are you married? Be holy by loving and caring for your husband or wife, as Christ does for the Church. Do you work for a living? Be holy by laboring with integrity and skill in the service of your brothers and sisters. Are you a parent or grandparent? Be holy by patiently teaching the little ones how to follow Jesus” (Francis, Gaudium et Exultate, 14). It is through these little gestures in our daily lives that we grow in holiness! It is that simple. Simple, yet extraordinary.
So what holds us back? Well, I think it is because we think being holy will make us less happy. We think, “In order to be holy, I can’t have any more fun,” or, “I have other goals in life, and being a saint…I’ll do that later.” So let me say this: “Do not be afraid of holiness. It will take away none of your energy, vitality or joy. On the contrary, you will become what the Father had in mind when he created you, and you will be faithful to your deepest self.…Do not be afraid to set your sights higher….[Again], when all is said and done, ‘the only great tragedy in life, is not to become a saint.’” (Francis, Gaudium et Exultate, 32 and 34)