November 1, 2020 at St. Peter the Apostle Church in Naples, FL
Revelations 7,2-4, 9-14 + Psalm 24 + 1 John 3, 1-3 + Matthew 5, 1-12
Those of us Baptized as infants in the Catholic Church, and especially those of us who had the privilege of experiencing Catholic Education in our early and formative years have shared a common experience, at least I would like to think so. I don’t want to think that I am the only one here who grew up dazzled and awe struck by the stories and images of the saints. We had statues and picture, prints, and holy cards always in front of us stirring our imaginations, our hopes and dreams all motivating our failed attempts to become Saints. And so, here we are. Some of us have given up the effort and just decided to be who we are, while I suspect that some have decided to embrace martyrdom at the hands of loved one who is determined to make us saints.
I am not too sure when it happened to me, but sometime ago, I think back in the seminary, I gave it up, and just decided that becoming a saint was not about something you did, but about something you are. With that, I abandoned all those youthful ideas that if I just suffered enough without complaining, offered up enough penance, said enough rosaries, went to Mass more than once a week, went to confession really often, I would have it made. It was as though I thought of it like a contest, like some prize I could win if I just did enough. The problem for me was that I never knew how much was enough.
This all came home to me visually many years ago when I had the opportunity to visit the Cathedral of the Angels in Los Angeles. If you have never been there, take a trip via the internet and explore the tapestries that line the upper walls of that fascinating holy place. When you stand in the midst of them, you find yourself surrounded and caught up in the wonderful procession headed toward the altar. I never counted them, but I’ve read that there are 25 of those tapestries with images of 135 wonderfully diverse saints. Some of them in the upper sections are recognizable by their images, clothes, and other symbols, but in line with them there are images of a diverse and very different people. Right away you get the point that joining that procession is possible for anyone from young people holding a ball bat or a doll, to a teacher or a doctor, a lawyer, a fireman, a letter carrier, a woman with a baby in her arms, or a man with a hammer and saw. They are black skinned, brown, yellow, white, and if these days in November remind us of anything, they are also blue and red whether you like the idea or not.
We are a church first, not a race, culture, or a nation. We are a church celebrating today and hopefully honoring our parents, our grandparents, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, teachers who put up with us, and people who have cleaned up after us. These are real people who are not included on the calendar of Saint’s days. This is not like the Oscars for technical achievement or a perfect performance. This is a day for sinners, because that’s what all the Saints have been. It is a day for us who should hold out every hope that by God’s grace we shall enjoy the fulness of divine life.
What we recognize today is that all these people we remember with such great affection have built the church, that they are the church, in a way we, as yet, are not. Their lives have closed; their contribution is complete. The church we have is their work. It would not have come to us without their example, witness, sacrifices, sorrows, sufferings, and prayers. The honor we may bestow upon the saints is nothing in comparison with what they have given to us. We all have our favorites among them. Today for the Knights of Columbus it is Father McGivney, who founded the Knights of Columbus. For young people it ought to be Fifteen-year-old Carlo Acutis who died of Leukemia in 2006. The teenager used his taste for technology to create a website that traced the history of Eucharistic miracles, which has been used by more than 10,000 parishes worldwide, says the Vatican. For me, it’s Stan Rother that Oklahoma country boy who became a priest shortly before me. He is the first American born martyr murdered in Guatemala. We all ought to have our heroes and models through which we can see Jesus Christ. You see, it’s not really about them, and they would be the first to say so. It is about who we see when we see them, who we know when we know them, who we become when we live as they lived.
We are a communion of saints because we were born into a communion of saints. Salvation comes to us as the free gift of God because they faithfully shared that very gift with us. Without the saints, Christ would be a small footnote of history. In the lives of the saints, he is their champion, who leads his great host through the centuries, claiming each age for the kingdom. I stand here today and look out at your faces, and I see saints in every one of you. It’s not a matter of how guilty you feel, how unworthy, or how sinful. We are all saints because we are the elect of God, chosen and set apart, because there have been saints before us. If we live our lives as saints, giving others a chance to see Christ Jesus, there will be more saints to come. Today we simply try to see how past, present and future are a seamless procession into the kingdom of heaven.