It is a joy to visit with you this evening and to celebrate the Vigil of All Saints’ Day. I’ve been going from parish to parish for Saturday evening or Sunday Mass but it has taken a lot longer than I ever imagined. So I’m happy to be here at long last! I am also happy to join with you in expressing our common thanks to your wonderful pastor and leader, Msgr. Robert Hartnett. We studied together at Mt. St. Mary’s Seminary back in the day and through the years Msgr. Hartnett has served well the whole Archdiocese, especially in his leadership of the Planning Office and has shown all of us a great spirit and great love of God as he faced formidable health challenges!
Now let’s talk about sainthood or more precisely our call to holiness. We might think about the Feast of All Saints as the feast of no excuses. The Second Vatican Council reminded us of something that the Church has always believed and taught and it’s this: everyone is called to holiness. Saints are not just heroic people from the past – holiness is something that you and I can attain now, in our daily lives. Saints include not only popes, bishops, priests, and religious but also members of the laity – married men and women, children and young people, and unmarried members of the laity. Among the saints there are many who did great things in and for the Church but there are many others who lived simple, ordinary lives. St. John Paul II taught that “holiness is the ordinary measure of the Christian life”. Holiness – and striving to grow in holiness – is essential if we would be the Lord’s followers and active, loving members of the Body of Christ.
Today’s Scripture: A Blueprint for Holiness
Today’s Scripture readings provide us with a foundation for the Church’s teaching on the universal call to holiness, the fact that every member of the Church through baptism is called to share to the fullest possible extent in the God’s goodness and glory. Let’s look briefly at all three readings, beginning with the Book of Revelation.
In this reading, the Apostle John is given a vision of heaven. To say the least, it is an awesome sight. There is God the Father in all his ancient glory and with him is Jesus, the Lamb of God surrounded by the angels. Who else is there? There is “…a great multitude, which no one could count, from every race, people and tongue…” In that great multitude there are people just like us: people who liked what we like and disliked what we don’t like; people from similar backgrounds, with similar strengths and limitations. The people in heaven are enough like us to remove from us the illusion that the call to holiness was meant for other people and not ourselves. And, by the way, what are all those people doing in heaven? They’re worshipping God day and night with inexpressible joy; they are participating in the great liturgy of heaven of which the Eucharist, the Mass, here on earth is but the beginning. So, here’s the moral: if you don’t like going to Mass on Sunday or if you think it takes too much time out of your week … well, your eternity really might seem like an eternity!
Let’s move to the second reading from the 1st Letter of John. They were written to encourage one or more Christian communities as they faced not only internal problems but also persecution. John’s encouragement to those early Christians should also encourage us. Sometime the daily routine can wear us down. There are problems at home, problems at work, problems with relationships, coupled with uncertainty about the future. We can find ourselves going through the motions and feeling pretty distant from God. John writes to remind you and me that life really is worth living: “We are God’s children now” and someday we will “see [God] as he is.” John is telling us, we’re not there yet but we can get there step by step: if we spend a little time praying each day or reading Scripture; if we decide not to participate in gossip or unkind speech about another; if we mend a broken relationship with a spouse or a child or a co-worker; if we reach out generously to someone in need, someone who can’t pay us back; and if we make Sunday Mass the centerpiece of our week and from time to time we confess our sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. These are the small, daily steps we can take toward holiness. That is how God’s children little by little become like Christ.
Speaking of becoming like Christ, let’s look briefly at the Gospel, the Beatitudes. The word “beatitude” and “blessed” speak to us of joy – not ordinary joy but the deep down joy for which we long, that joy which is a fruit of the Holy Spirit’s action in our souls. Jesus tells us what will bring us joy and it’s not the ordinary stuff: it’s being poor in spirit; mourning over evil and sin; being meek; hungering for holiness; showing mercy; being clean of heart; being peacemakers; even being ready to suffer persecution for the sake of holiness. “Wow”, we say, if that’s recipe for happiness, “what’s the recipe for unhappiness?” Well, let’s think about what Jesus was doing when he first preached the Beatitudes. Pope Benedict told us that Jesus was painting a portrait of himself. He’s the one is who is poor in spirit; meek and mild; who died because of sin; who hungers and thirsts for us to share in his love; who is single-hearted in his love for us and for the Father; who made peace by the blood of his Cross! We find happiness and joy when at last we truly become the Lord’s disciples, when we encounter the Lord, open our hearts to his love, and allow him to transform us from the inside out – in such a way that we become living, breathing, images and witness of his truth, love, & goodness. This is what Pope Francis is talking about when he calls me and you to become “missionary disciples” – followers of Christ who radiate and spread the Gospel by our lives.
St. Theresa of Avila once said, “If I am not becoming a saint, then I am doing nothing.” Friends, our happiness and joy here and in the hereafter is found in our leading incredibly purposeful lives, lives that are daily touched and redeemed by the Holy Spirit, hearts that are capable of conquering evil with good and hatred with love. Conversion of heart is Christ’s proven method of changing not only individual lives but also entire civilizations, including the culture we live in.
So dear friends, be of good cheer! This is the feast day not only of the unsung heroes who made it to heaven; it is our feast day as well! What’s more, that joyful throng up in heaven is rooting for us, cheering for us, and hoping one day to welcome us into their company! Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, pray for us! St. Ann, keep us anchored in the Faith! May the Lord bless us and keep us always in his love!