The 31st Sunday of the year and The Feast of All Saints
St Peter the Apostle Church in Naples, FL
November 01, 2015
Revelation 7, 2-4, 9-14 + Psalm 24 + 1 John 3, 1-3 + Matthew 5, 1-12
Some years ago when I was pastor at a parish with a school, I dropped in one of the classrooms about this time of the year for a visit. They were all getting ready for the All Saints Day Mass when they paraded around dressed in costumes like the Saint they had chosen to study. So I asked the children what they thought someone had to do to become a saint. Before I had taken a breath after the question, little miss “knows all the answers” shot her hand up in the air lifting herself out of the desk announcing quite confidently that to be a saint you had to be dead. There was agreement all the way around. Another announced that you had to have a gold plate on your head. As I was writing all of this in my notebook hiding my face for fear they would think I was laughing at them, the discussion began to get very animated. Some thought you had to suffer a lot, others expressed the thought that you had to say your prayers all day long, then someone said you had obey your father and mother, clean your room, pick up your toys, and feed the dog. At which point, I closed the notebook and decided that there was work to do here. I gave them a homework assignment which was welcomed about as much as a bee sting, but nonetheless, they were assigned to ask their parents to tell them the story of their baptism: who was there, what it was like, how they felt, and where it happened. I went back the next day, and sat down to hear the stories. They were wonderfully shared the only way third graders can embellish details.
After it all ended, I suggested to them that on the day of their baptism they had already become saints, and that basically that was all it took from us; after that, God did the rest. In all their excited innocence those children revealed, as they so often do, a lot about us as adults. They thought, and sometimes we do too, that holiness is the consequence of something done. People who try to be “saints” or try to be holy usually end up being pious, and sometimes a little bit on the freaky side of pious. They are hard to be around. Conversations with them are rarely fun, and they don’t seem to smile and laugh much. They are too busy trying to be holy or look like those images on holy cards.
This day in the calendar of the Church’s celebrations gets easily sidetracked by thinking about others, or about imagining that this is a day to catch up on all the others who have no day to themselves in the list of saints on the calendar. I think not. I would propose to you that this is All Saints Day. All meaning all of us, all who are baptized into Christ, all upon whom is given the grace and gift of love, mercy, and forgiveness. I believe that the children in that third grade classroom were saints not because they were perfectly obedient, said all their prayers, cleaned their rooms, or fed the dog, but because they were third graders living and being just exactly what God made them to be at the moment.
Holiness is not something we do, it is something we are, and because of what we are, what we do agrees, confirms, and bears witness that we are as children of God. You can’t try to be holy. That’s weird. You can try to be who you are made to be, what you are made to become. The path to holiness is a one way street to sincerity, simplicity, and the truth: the truth about who we are. Mothers and Father find holiness and bear witness to that grace by simply being mom and dad. Brothers and Sisters are most holy when they live in the joyful bond of family life. Single people who live the freedom of their lives for the service and good others find their holiness in the right use of their gifts and the generosity of their lives. There is no pretense in these lives, there is no struggle to be anything other than what we were made and called to be in God’s sight. This is holiness, and this is also Happiness.
Contrary to what little miss “knows all the answers” thinks, Matthew suggests that the Blessed, the Happy, are not those who are dead, but those who are alive, fully alive, living in every moment of every day, good and bad times, able to laugh and to weep, work and play, peaceful and confident that the love of God will not fail. The truly holy, the real saints are not the sinless; but the saved who celebrate and live that salvation every day with Joy.