Rev. 7:2-4, 9-14/ Psalm 24/ 1 Jn 3:1-3/ Matt 5:1-12a
Being “All Saints Day,” it begs the question-- “What exactly is a ‘Saint?’” Technically, the Church tells us that a “saint” is any man or woman who is in heaven, beholding God Almighty face-to-face. Biblically, to “see” something is at once to “posses” it. Also, the “face,” in the Bible, is the most intimate or personal part of the body. Therefore, “Seeing” someone’s “face” means to know them personally and completely.
In the Old Testament, however, such a “seeing” was NOT possible for God’s face always remained hidden. Moses, perhaps, was blessed with the best look at God...BUT this was just in passing and only included God’s “back.” Still, this was the deepest desire of God’s people as the Psalmist gives witness today singing, “This is the people that longs to see your face.”
So to say that the Saints see God face-to-face, is an EXTRAORDINARY statement. It is to say that they do something that neither Noah, Abraham, Moses, or Elijah were able to do. For the fullness of God’s Revelation had not yet come. Jesus had not YET made visible, the invisible face of his Father. For Jesus had not yet offered his holy blood for the sins of the world. Only this Blood, as St. John saw today in the Book of Revelation, could bring the Saints into this vision-- “they have washed their robes and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb.”
Thanks to Jesus, the saints stand before the Father, dazzling white, “Seeing Him face-to-face.” But still, what does this mean? Why is this so desirable? Because it means that the Saints “posses” God. They are FULL of God. God has filled them with his very self--Love. Because of this, they are perfectly HAPPY and Fulfilled. Jesus foretells this in the Gospel today. Nine times, he promises that those who love as he does, will be “Blessed”...this is just another way of saying “Happy.” A Happiness that does not fade, lack, or disappoint. Anyone interested?
Good. Because this is God’s desire for each one of you. “Sainthood” is not just something for giant figures of the past. Rather, it is God’s most basic and fundamental desire for your life--to be with him happily, forever. This desire is behind everything God does--creating you, sending his Son for you, loving you, giving you the sacraments, waking you up this morning, bringing you to Church today...everything. So, now we must ask, “What does it mean for YOU to become a saint?”
Matthew Kelly, a current Catholic writer, gives one of my favorite explanations--Holiness...or becoming a saint...means becoming the best possible version of yourself. That is to say, the last thing the world needs is another Francis of Assisi or Catherine of Siena. And surely it does not need another Joan of Arc. These men and women were great...in their own time and way. However, what the world needs today is YOU! It needs your holiness. Your example. Your saintly life. Your YES to follow Jesus Christ. Your eagerness to behold the Father in heaven, face-to-face.
You must remember, that in the eyes of God..and thus in REALITY, you are infinitely precious, for you are the only John Smith...or Betty Crocker...that the world has ever...or will ever see. Your life, then, is an infinitely precious commodity to God and to this world. You are a UNIQUE...IRREPLACEABLE manifestation of God’s love. Without you, we miss something of God’s creativity. Without you, we miss out on the fullness of God’s vision. For God sees you as he sees no other. And you see God, as no one else sees God. The greatest value and richest diversity to be found is...You. It is the saint, that really believes this...and responds to it. Pope Benedict explains this in a different way, “To become saints means to fulfill completely what we already are, raised to the dignity of God’s adopted children in Christ Jesus.” Already we have everything we need to become saints...for the Father has given us his Son. All we must do, is allow Christ to “bring to fulfillment, the good work begun in us.”
“But how,” you may ask, “does this really work itself out in the day to day of my life? I mean, this all sounds great Father, but practically speaking, where do I start?” I believe there is no better place...than the example of the Saints.
But I will admit, Growing up I always found the Saints overwhelming. There are just so many of them! It was hard enough weeding through them to find a Confirmation name! Much less, trying to pick one to get to know. So for a long time, I just set them aside...admiring them from afar....not knowing where to begin. Then I entered seminary...and met a man named Dr. Atherton Lowry.
Anybody who has studied Philosophy in the past 25 years at St. Charles Seminary in Philadelphia, knows this name all too well. As the head of the Philosophy Department, you were sure to have at least two or three classes with this man. Like many Philosophy professors, Dr. Lowry exists on a different plane than most of us. His thoughts are more abstract, his reflections more complex, his pace of life more relaxed, and his clothes more mismatched than the average man. However, what really sets Dr. Lowry apart....is his special love for and awareness of the Saints. I have never met anyone else quite like him in this regard!
Every class it was expected that, before his arrival, we were to write on the board any saint we would like to pray to that day. Naturally, we did our best to fill the board with as many names as possible so as to...well...delay the start of class as long as possible. However, we had to know at least a bit of information about the saint because Dr. Lowry was sure to scan the board and question us about any names he didn’t know. Never did I imagine that I would come to know so much about Sts. Cunagunda and John the Dwarf!
After assessing the names on the board, Dr. Lowry would lead us in a number of prayers to begin class, always culminating with a sung litany of the saints. It was very important to Dr. Lowry that we keep the litany going smoothly, “Like a river...just flowing...flowing...wave after wave.” St. John. Pray for us. St. Lucy. PFU. St. Cunagunda. PFU. St. Mark. PFU. And without fail, he would always end the litany with St. John Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests, to whom he has a huge devotion.
Also, class would not begin without some kind of exhortation like: “Men, it is so much important to remember how much the saints love you. And how delighted they are when you tell them that you Love them! Remember to tell the saints how much you love them! And in a special way, remember how immensely St. John Vianney loves you! No offense to the rest of the saints. They understand that I have been teaching men to be parish priests like him for the past 25 years. Which reminds me....” And on he would go!
One day as I sat in the chapel, Dr. Lowry came to mind. I remembered his simple recommendation--Just tell the saints that you love them. But as always...came the question...which one to choose? Again Dr. Lowry had an answer--St. John Vianney. After all I am studying to be a parish priest. And he is the patron of parish priests. So not really knowing how...I began, “Ummm...Hello John...I mean St. John...Vianney. I just wanted to tell you...well.....I love you.” As soon as I uttered the words in my heart, I felt my whole being set ablaze with a feeling of warmth and love. It was like I had just embraced my best friend after non seeing him for ten years! So simple! So deep! Wow...
Ever since that day, I have been getting to know and love the saints one by one. I have offered my love to them countless times. I have offered so many prayers to them...and received so many answers...so much peace. How comforting does it feel to know that a close friend is praying for you! Imagine how much more it feels to have a friend praying for you who is looking at our Heavenly Father face-to-face.
So, on this All Saints Day, I offer you the same advice Dr. Lowry has given to me...and literally hundreds of other seminarians---get to know the saints! Start simple. Start small. Do a bit of research this week and just pick ONE saint to get to know. Maybe it is your confirmation saint. Maybe the patron of your job. Maybe a saint whose feast day is on your birthday. You will find some good resources listed on the last page of the bulletin, right under “Anniversaries” that can help you pick one. Once you pick one, read a bit about them. Then set aside a bit of quiet time and spend it with them. Tell them about yourself. Your story. Whatever is on your mind and heart. Just be still. Enjoy their company. Ask them for strength. Ask them what it is like to see God face-to-face. Ask them to share some of this grace with you. Ask them for guidance, as you strive to follow in their footsteps...on YOUR way to holiness.....on YOUR way to sainthood. And last but not least....remember to tell them that you LOVE them.
In the course of his teaching Jesus said to the crowds,
"Beware of the scribes, who like to go around in long robes
and accept greetings in the marketplaces,
seats of honor in synagogues,
and places of honor at banquets.
They devour the houses of widows and, as a pretext
recite lengthy prayers.
They will receive a very severe condemnation."
He sat down opposite the treasury
and observed how the crowd put money into the treasury.
Many rich people put in large sums.
A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents.
Calling his disciples to himself, he said to them,
"Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more
than all the other contributors to the treasury.
For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth,
but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood."