Thursday, November 01, 2007
One day, Mr. Smith was teaching a First Communion class and he wanted to teach the children about heaven and the saints. So he asked the children, “If I sold my house and my car, had a big garage sale and gave all my money to the church, would that get me into Heaven? The children responded, "NO!" "If I cleaned the church every day, mowed the yard, and kept everything neat and tidy, would that get me into Heaven?" asked Mr. Smith. Again, the children answered, "NO! ""Well, then, if I was kind to animals and gave candy to all the children, and loved my wife, would that get me into Heaven?" he continued to ask again. Again, the children all answered, "NO!" Then Mr. Smith asked, "Then how can I get into Heaven?" A five-year-old boy shouted out, "YOU GOTTA BE DEAD!"
Today we celebrate those men and women who lived on this Earth and now share in that beatific vision of seeing God face to face. We believe that the Church is present in three places. Here on earth were the living baptized members exist. Those that are in the kingdom of God which we celebrate today with All Saints Day and tomorrow we remember the souls in purgatory who await entrance into that eternal kingdom. Now sometimes when we look at the lives of the saints we believe that these men and women were perfect but they were not. These men and women were people like us who had there daily struggles but they were men and women that were on fire. They were the radicals of their times that wanted to simply live out the Gospel.
At the moment I’m reading a great book titled, “My Life with the Saints” written by a Jesuit, Fr. James Martin. I highly recommend this book to you and you can pick it up at any bookstore. As I was reading it, I realized how these men and women that he mentioned were not perfect but lived heroic lives and made such an impact on society. It makes the reader realize that I too can be a saint. Some of the saints he mentions are Dorothy Day a woman that the Vatican is presently investigating to canonize her one day. Here is a woman who was an atheist in her early life had an abortion but then after becoming a Catholic lived simply such as only buying things from goodwill, served the poor with such devotion and began the Catholic Workers Movement which do so much good work even to this day. Also Martin mentions St. Peter, a man that was far from being perfect. He was a fisherman called by Jesus to be his disciples and spent three years at the side of Jesus and you would have thought he would be so dynamic after being at the side of Jesus but instead he was imperfect and denied Jesus three times. The one that said I will always stick by you instead turns around and abandons him but after the resurrection he becomes the great apostle and dies the same death as Jesus did but in a upside down manner. There are more lives of the saints that Martin describes in his book, the same men and women we honor this evening.
St. Bernard gave a great sermon on this feast day of All Saints. He says, “the saints have no need of honor from us neither does our devotion add the slightest thing to what is theirs. Clearly, if we venerate their memory, it serves us, not them. But I tell you, when I think of them, I feel myself inflamed by a tremendous yearning. Calling the saints to mind inspires, or rather arouses in us, above all else, a longing to enjoy their company, so desirable in itself. We long to share in the citizenship of heaven, to dwell with the spirits of the blessed, to join the assembly of patriarchs, the ranks of the prophets, the council of apostles, the great host of martyrs, the noble company of confessors and the choir of virgins. In short, we long to be united in happiness with all the saints.”
Questions arise on what it takes to work towards holiness. Do I have to be a founder of a congregation? Do I have to go to a mission country? Do I have to quit my job and go to the desert and contemplate? Do I have to be a priest or nun? No my brothers and sisters when Vatican II was called in the 1960’s it made a bold statement that no other council has done before and the statement was that all are called to holiness. In the dogmatic constitution on the church, Lumen Gentium in paragraph 39 it states that, “The Church, whose mystery is set forth by this sacred Council, is held as a matter of faith, to be unfailingly holy. This is because Christ, the Son of God, who with the Father and the Spirit is hailed as “alone holy,” love the Church as his Bride, giving himself up for her so as to sanctify her; he joined her to himself as his body and endowed her with the gift of the Holy Spirit for the glory of God. Therefore all in the Church, whether they belong to the hierarchy or are cared for by it, are called to holiness, according to the apostles’ saying: “For this is the will of God your sanctification.’ This holiness of the Church is constantly shown forth in the fruits of grace which the Spirit produces in the faithful and so it must be; it is expressed in many ways by the individuals who, each in his own state of life, tend to the perfection of love, thus helping others to grow in holiness; it appears in a manner peculiar to itself in the practice of the counsels which have been usually called “evangelical.”
Now you might ask, “but Father how do I start on this way to holiness, where can I begin?” Well, first I think the best way is to make a good examination of conscience is to use the Ten Commandments as our guide. We can look at the beatitudes that we heard in this evening’s Gospel, to be poor in spirit, to be meek, to hunger and thirst for righteousness, to be merciful, to be a peacemaker. My brothers and sisters, it’s not easy to be perfect in all these areas but if we begin to try to live out them each day than they become easier and become part of our everyday living.
Let us remind ourselves of the Psalm we heard earlier, “who can ascend the mountain of the Lord? or who may stand in his holy place? One whose hands are sinless, whose heart is clean, who desires not what is vain. He shall receive a blessing from the Lord, a reward from God his savior. Such is the race that seeks him, that seeks the face of the God of Jacob.”.