1 Nov 2015
Solemnity of All Saints
He was a popular guy and liked to have fun, you know, drinking with friends and being a general disturbance to the peace. His father was wealthy, and he took advantage of the fact that he didn’t have to work in order to have a good time.
And then there was a young lady who, for whatever reason, did not have a good reputation. She wasn’t the kind of person you’d want to be associated with—she might’ve sullied your good name. But then there was another lady, a young girl actually, who was just as saintly as you could be. She was pure, devoted to God, thoughtful: just an all around pleasant person.
The stories could on and on, like the story a young man (a teenager, I believe) who grew up in a wealthy home. But his parents, devout Christians, died in an epidemic and left their fortune to him. But he didn’t squander his inheritance; instead, he used it help the needy, the sick, and the suffering. He was very free with his spirit of giving.
And we know these people today as St Francis of Assisi, St Mary Magdalene, St Maria Goretti, and St Nicholas of Myra. It’s an assorted “multitude” of people who make up the body of the Saints. Some seemed to have been born saints right out of the womb. Others had to go through some pretty major conversion experiences.
But one thing they all have in common is that they’re simply human beings who—sooner or later—allowed God to be a priority in their lives. Of course, that’s one of the reasons we honor the Saints . . . because letting God be a priority in life has never been easy. It takes courage to “go against the flow” and stand firm when it comes to our beliefs.
And that’s not only courage in the face of others’ opposition; it’s also courage in the face of our own self-doubt. You know, it would be a mistake to think that the Saints just turn a switch in their soul one day and decide, “Okay, I’m going to be a Saint from now on.” Of course, we know it doesn’t work that way (even if we think the Saints have secretly figured out a way to do it). No, becoming a Saint isn’t like an on-off switch; it’s more like one of those dimmer switches, where you can turn the light on really, really slowly and gradually.
The temptation, of course, is to think that the switch of our own saintliness isn’t getting turned on fast enough, or that it’s not getting turned on at all. The temptation is to give up on that saintly idea of allowing God to be a priority in our life: “That’s for the Saints,” we say. “They can do it. Not me.”
And how many Saints have said that to themselves? Probably more than we can imagine. A Saint isn’t a person without struggles in their faith, a person without doubts and questions. A Saint isn’t somebody who never stumbles and falls. A Saint is someone who’s determined to keep growing, who puts more faith and trust in God’s mercy than in themselves. And it takes courage to do that. It takes courage to make (and keep) God as a priority in life. But the Saints encourage us by their own example and life stories.
And a common element of each of the Saints’ lives is the idea of “purification.” Jesus teaches: “Blessed are the clean of heart, the pure of heart, for they shall see God.” And St John tells us that those whose ultimate hope is to be like God makes themselves “pure, as [God] is pure.” The Saints are those who—as we hear in the Book of Revelation—who “have survived the time of great distress,” and have “washed their robes and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb.”
We celebrate the Saints as mentors, as examples, as the best of our human race because of their purity. They were once sinners, just like every one of us. But they desired to be more, to be better, to be like Christ in the world.
Like St Nicholas, the Saints desire to shower other people with the free gift of love; St Nicholas, a bright star, a sign in the world of Christ’s boundless and free love. Like St Mary Magdalene, they desire to be healed of their demons, and to cling to Christ; St Mary Magdalene, a sign in the world of God’s mercy and fidelity.
Like St Francis of Assisi, the Saints desire to be free to follow the Holy Spirit wherever he leads them: St Francis, a sign in the world of Christ’s devotion, humility, and spirit of joyful sacrifice. And like St Maria Goretti, they desire to fight for what is good, true and beautiful; St Maria Goretti, a sign in the world of Christ’s innocence.
All the Saints gradually purified their hearts and washed themselves clean of selfishness, and pride and all those other sins that get in the way of human flourishing. Over time, they became “purified,” so that when others encountered them, they encountered the living Christ in the world.
We’re surrounded by the Saints: purified of sin, glorifying God in heaven, watching over us, and being the encouraging “big brothers and sisters” in the faith that they are. They say, “Come, be with us. Come and see this vision of a great multitude from every nation, race, people, and tongue filled, all enjoying the brilliance of divine and perfect Love.” And we can get there, if we remember to put God as a priority in the story of our lives.