Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Called to Be Saints

by Rev. Louis Papes
Solemnity of All Saints
November 1, 2009

I was shocked, confused, bewildered
As I entered Heaven’s door.
Not by the beauty of it all.
Not the lights or its decor.
But it was the folks in Heaven
Who made me sputter and gasp–
The thieves, the liars, the sinners,
The alcoholics, the trash...
There stood the kid from seventh grade
Who swiped my money twice.
Next to him was my old neighbor
Who never said anything nice.
Herb, whom I always thought
Was rotting in hell
Was sitting on cloud nine
Looking incredibly well.
I nudged Jesus, “What’s the deal?
I would love to hear your take.
How did all these sinners get up here?
God must’ve made a mistake.
And why’s everyone so quiet,
So somber? Give me a clue.”
“Hush, Child,” said He. 
                                      “They’re all in shock.
No one thought they’d be seeing you.”
--Source Unknown
Cited in Parish Bulletin
St. Peter, Chicago

As a child, I was awed by the stories of George slaying the dragon, Patrick banishing snakes from Ireland, and Simeon the Stylite living atop a sixty-five foot pillar!

Yet, one of the main reasons for the stories in the Bible and in the tradition is to offer models or examples to live by. Unfortunately, they are often so fanciful that they may bemuse us, perhaps inspire us, but they hardly call us to faithful imitation. Sometimes the stories are fairly clear-cut examples like the story of Cain and Abel. Other times they are a bit more subtle like the Samaritan woman at the well or even our first pope, Peter.

We have a whole host of examples. But in so many cases the people depicted in these stories are so stilted, stiff and superior that we immediately discount them as beyond our reach. And that is so sad.

The expectations of sanctity (even that word is off-putting) make us either give up in utter frustration – I know of people who have actually left the Church over this--or we begin to fantasize ourselves into a Pharisaical sanctity! Quite frankly, we need to reappraise our attitude about sanctity. By looking at those hailed as saints of the tradition as well as at those people we ourselves have known, we can come to some resolve on what makes a saint.

This feast should lead us to try to sort out the expectations of our call to holiness. I propose that there are certain characteristics of true sanctity.

First, saints are those who acknowledge that they are sinners and are nevertheless loved unconditionally by an infinitely gracious God. Saints accept the reality of their humanity with all its shortcomings, faults and foibles as the beginning – the foundation – of sanctity. At the same time this awareness of their brokenness bolsters the realization of how much they are loved by God, who accepts them just as they are. This requires of each of us who aspire to sanctity to know ourselves and to embrace our frail human nature. As Thomas Merton has said “For me to be a saint means to be myself.”

Those whose humanity led them to rejoice in being unconditionally loved would be the likes of King David, Peter, Dorothy Day, Matt Talbot, Margaret of Cartona, and the Samaritan Woman at the Well.

Saints are also those who have come to have a joyful love of life and a love of others. Contrary to so many traditional images of saints as dour and forlorn, sanctity requires a joy-filled, passionate love of life – even, or perhaps especially, from martyrs. At the heart of this joy-filled passion is the Divine Covenant, which is nothing more than a “Divine Passion” for all of creation, but particularly for humanity. This Divine Passion flows in and through us into compassion – a love for others rooted in identifying with their joys and sorrows, their successes and failures.

Saints who had a joyful love of life and of others would be the likes of Teresa of Calcutta, Elizabeth of Hungary, Francis of Assisi, Frederick Ozanan, and Damien of Molaki..

And, finally, saints are those who are prayerful visionaries. Saints are comfortable in their relationship with God. They are easily on a first name basis, like Jesus who called God “Abba” – “Daddy.” Intimate dialog trumps formula prayer! This type of relationship makes the saint privy to the Reign of God. They are able to vision God’s Reign of Justice and Peace and how it will be realized through their efforts. Mary is the model of a prayerful visionary who offered us a manifesto for that vision in her Magnificat.

Saints who would be considered prayerful visionaries would be the likes of the biblical Sarah, John XXIII, Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Avila, John the Evangelist, and Thomas Merton.
I offer these characteristics, these “virtues,” because I am convinced not only that our catalogue of saints fits this pattern, but most importantly, that every single one of us is capable of achieving those standards.

We can take the first steps today, a day which is appropriately our feast day! How hard is it to say “I’m a sinner"? Say it right now: I AM A SINNER! How hard is it to admit that “God’s love endures forever"? Say it right now: GOD’S LOVE ENDURES FORVER!

See how easy! We’re well on our way to being saints!