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The Solemnity of All Saints
November 1, 2020

Watch Father Ryan's homily (it begins at 34:25).

     All Saints Day reminds us that it’s all about holiness, that it’s only about holiness – that holiness is our reason for being – it’s our call, our destiny. But there’s a problem: our idea of holiness may be so exalted and other-worldly that we shy away from it, regarding it as the preserve of only the truly exceptional and the extraordinary.

     But that’s a mistake. For most of us, holiness has less to do with great and heroic deeds than it does with simple, daily fidelity to the call of our baptism and our calling in life. Holiness is parents loving each other, loving their kids, sacrificing for them, doing their best to lead them to God; holiness is kids loving their parents, having fun, taking delight in life, finding the joy of getting to know Jesus. Holiness is students discovering new and exciting things about the world and its wonders; holiness is workers who get on with their co-workers – even difficult ones - and who put in an honest day’s work even when working from home. Holiness is employers who care about justice and who hold themselves to its highest standards; holiness is elected leaders who care about truth and integrity and who put people before partisan politics - especially the most needy and vulnerable. Holiness is sick people who hold onto hope and find Jesus in the midst of their sufferings; holiness is elderly people full of wisdom and gratitude who remember how to smile. Holiness is found in all those places. It’s not out there. It’s right here.

     And to that I would add that there is a happy side to holiness – or should be, because, as St. John of the Cross tells us, “joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God.” In an All Saints Day homily, Pope Francis said that “if there is one thing typical of holy people it’s that they’re genuinely happy.” And that takes us to today’s gospel reading – the Beatitudes.  In those familiar verses from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus makes it clear where true holiness, true happiness are to be found. And it’s not in the places where we might think.  It’s not in possessions or property or in things we have or hoard.  No, Jesus says that blessedness is a way of being. It’s about trusting in God and letting God be enough; it’s about depending on God and not on ourselves (that’s what being poor in spirit means); it’s about being pure of heart, single-minded, meek and merciful; it’s about being passionate for justice and passionate for peace; and, yes, sometimes it’s about paying the price for what we believe in.

      Five years ago, Pope Francis gave a history-making address in the U.S. Capitol before both houses of Congress. In it, he held up as models for lawmakers and for every one of us, four American ‘saints’ – none of them canonized by the Church but each embodying what sainthood is about and what this feast of All Saints is about. Let me remind you who they were: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day, and Thomas Merton. American ‘saints.’ Was there ever a time in our history when we were more in need of ‘saints,’ heroes like them?

     Let me zero in on just one of them: Thomas Merton - intellectual, seeker, social activist-turned-Trappist-monk, and an immensely influential figure in mid-20th century America. His autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain was an unlikely bestseller that changed a lot of lives. In the book, Merton tells of a conversation he had with a friend shortly after his conversion to Catholicism. He told his friend that he all he wanted in life was to be a good Catholic. His friend told him, “What you should say is that you want to be a saint.” Merton replied that that struck him as a little weird. “How do you expect me to become a saint?” he asked. And the friend told him, “By wanting to. All that is necessary to be a saint is to want to be one. That’s because God wants you to be a saint and all you have to do is to want what God wants for you.”

     Now, even though this may sound a bit simplistic, Merton’s friend’s logic is iron-clad. If God created each of us to be saints (and God surely did), then doesn’t it follow that God will give us what we need to fulfill that destiny. So, I have a question for you on this feast of All Saints, my friends: do you want to be a saint?

     Merton found the idea “weird.” I think many of us do.  That’s because our idea of saint probably needs some tweaking. Forget plaster statues. Forget the pale, bloodless faces and modestly downcast eyes of holy cards; forget the furrowed brow, the frozen face, the perpetual seriousness. Forget life without laughs, life without joy.

     Forget all that and start, instead, with who you are: the unique and wonderful person God made you to be. That’s the raw material of your sainthood.  Who you are.  No one else can be a saint in quite the same way as you can.  And don’t let your awareness of your shortcomings - your warts and flaws, your sins and failings - don’t let those things convince you that you’re way too human to be a saint, that too much has happened, that sainthood may have been a possibility way back, but not now, that sainthood is for others, not for you.  That in itself would a sin, a denial of God’s power, God’s grace.

     Someone once said that there’s no saint without a past and no sinner without a future.  I like that.  There’s no saint without a past and no sinner without a future!  It’s true, my friends.  It’s true.  We all have a past, spotted though it may be, and we all have a future.  A glorious future beyond our imagining.

     As we celebrate today all the saints who have gone before us – our fellow members of the human family from all times and places, countless in number, who stumbled and fell along the way but who kept faith, kept letting God work wonders of grace in their lives - let us take courage knowing that they are cheering us on along the way and that we can get to where they’ve gotten. Get to where God wants us to be. Get to be saints. We can, my friends. We must!

     Happy Feast Day!

Father Michael G. Ryan





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