The Feast of All Saints
[Scripture Readings: Rev 7:2-4, 9-14; 1 Jn 3:1-3; Mt.5:1-12a]
Today’s feast raises a few questions in my mind. First would we recognize a
saint if we saw one? How would we know? If it were one of the “greats,” of
course we would. After all St. Patrick would have snakes at his feet and a
shamrock in his hand. St. Teresa would be in her Carmelite habit and St.
Benedict would have a raven on his shoulder. But what about a not so famous
saint? How would we know?
Another question comes to mind. Do you have to be a Catholic to be a saint?
It seems not. There is a book in our library entitled All Saints . It is what
you might call a post-Christian calendar of saints. On July 29 they celebrate
Vincent van Gogh and on November 7 Albert Camus!
So what is a saint? In our reading today we heard that out of the Tribe of
Israel, 144,000 were considered servants of God. A footnote tells us 144,000
is 12 squared multiplied by 1000 and represents totality. In this case it is
the totality of all who have been faithful to Christ. So we could define a
saint as someone who is faithful to Christ. The Gospel today explains what
this implies. It is Jesus inaugural sermon in Matthew’s Gospel. It is his program of life
for those who wish to follow him. It is the Beatitudes-his teaching on
prayer-his new standard of living-“love your enemies, pray for those who
persecute you,” and finally not just to listen but to put into practice.
So with this knowledge, would we recognize a saint if we saw one? Possibly
not, because we live in a society that is bedazzled by the special, the
rare, the extraordinary. The ordinary is boring. Look at all the magazines
that celebrate the lives of movie stars and sport stars. People magazine
features the beautiful people. Ordinary people are not exciting. Who would
ever fantasize about becoming ordinary? Today we celebrate the ordinary
saints. Why is it so hard to recognize an ordinary saint? The man or woman
who lives the Beatitudes, prays the prayer that Jesus taught, is not attached
to riches and loves one’s neighbor. Why is it so hard to recognize them? I
think it is because they would have to live out the Gospel according to our
norms. When we see them failing, we automatically conclude, “Well he/she is
no saint.” But God sees the heart. Success and failure are not so easy to
judge as we think. God’s ways are not our ways.
A person’s sanctity is not judged by a single act but by a totality. One
hundred and forty-four thousand represent the totality of those who are
faithful to Christ. The number is symbolic and our life is symbolic. Our
life, our total life, everything we do, the holy and the sinful, represents and is
a symbol of our fidelity to Christ. A saint is not someone who never sinned,
but it is a characteristic of a saint to seek forgiveness after sinning to
restore the fidelity, to be reconciled to God and the Church.
Today we celebrate the non-canonized saints, the ones only God knows about,
the ones we lived with and did not recognize, the men and women who had no
special mission in the Church, in the community, other than to be faithful to
Christ. Is the person next to you a saint? Would you recognize it if he or she was? I
don’t have an answer, but I do know it is a privilege to live with monks and
our friends who come to Mass with us daily, who are faithful to Christ, who
each day do the best they can to live out in their own way the teachings of Jesus?