All Saints Revelation 7:2–4, 9–14; 1 John 3:1–3; Matthew 5:1–12a
Lost opportunity Saints not only remind us of our own call to be saints but inspire us to pursue it. In his book The Power and the Glory, novelist Graham Greene describes a priest who ministered to his people in an era of religious persecution in Mexico.
The danger of being caught by the police and the exhausting work of serving his people finally took their toll. The priest turned to drink and became an alcoholic. Eventually he was caught, sentenced to die, and put into prison to await execution.
When he awoke on the morning of his death, he had an empty brandy flask in his hand. He tried to recite an act of contrition, but he was too confused to remember the words.
Suddenly he caught sight of his own shadow on the wall of the prison cell. He just sat there, staring at it.
As he did, he realized it was foolish of him to think that he was strong enough to remain behind and minister to his people. He should have fled. It was stupid to stay behind. It was a terrible mistake.
Tears began to form in his eyes and roll down his cheeks. He was not crying because he was afraid to die. He was crying because he had to go to God so empty-handed.
It seemed to him at that moment that it would have been easy to have been a saint. It would only have taken a little self-restraint and a little courage. He felt like someone who had missed happiness by seconds at an appointed place. He knew now that at the end there was only one thing that counted— to be a saint.
The last line of this scene is especially moving and bears repeating: He knew now that at the end there was only one thing that counted to be a saint. This line sums up what today’s Feast of All Saints is all about. The feast reminds us that when all is said and done, there is only one thing in life that counts to be a saint.
What does the word saint mean?
In the strict sense, the word is reserved for people who have lived such exemplary Christian lives that the Church declares them to be in heaven. The Church’s official list of saints includes about 2,500 such people.
Let me share with you an excerpt from a letter of one such person. It is from a letter of Saint Peter Claver, who worked among the black slaves in South America in the 17th century. It reads:
Yesterday. . . feast of the Holy Trinity, a great number of black people who had been seized along the African rivers were put ashore from one very large vessel. We hurried out with two baskets full of oranges, lemons, sweet biscuits and all sorts of things. . . .
We had to force our way through the crowds till we reached the sick. There was a great number of them, lying on damp earth, or rather mud. . . . They were naked without any covering at all.
We took off our cloaks, went to a store, brought from there all the wood that was available and put it together to make a platform; then, forcing a way through the guards, we eventually managed to carry all the sick to it. . . .
You should have seen the expression of gratitude in their eyes!
In this way we spoke to them, not with words but with deeds. . . . Any other form of address would have been pointless. Then we sat or knelt beside them and washed their faces and bodies.
Saint Peter Claver wasn’t a martyr He didn’t spend his days in prayer. He didn’t spend his nights doing penance. He didn’t have any visions. He didn’t write any great books on religion. He was an ordinary person like you and me.
The purpose of All Saints is to honor people like Peter Claver and to hold them up to us as reminders and as inspirations.
First, they remind us of our own calling to be saints. That is, we are called to live our lives in a way that after death we too will merit eternal life.
Second, saints like Peter Claver inspire us. They show us that it is possible to be a saint. It is not something beyond our reach. Not at all! As the priest in the novel discovered, all it asks of us is a little self-restraint and a little courage.
The priest was right. Being a saint does not mean imitating someone who was martyred centuries ago. Being a saint means imitating ordinary people who lived in ordinary times,much like our own.
It means imitating people who laughed and cried, just as we do. It means imitating people who sinned and used the Sacrament of Reconciliation, just as we do. It means imitating people who tried again and sometimes sinned again, just as we do.
If such people had anything extraordinary about them, it was that they never stopped trying to live each day in a gospel way.
This is what the Feast of All Saints is about. It’s about honoring people like Peter Claver. And in the course of honoring them, we are reminded of our own calling to be saints and are inspired to pursue that calling. Let us close by paraphrasing the words of poet John Oxenham:
To everyone there opens a way a high way and a low way. The high soul takes the high way; the low soul takes the low way. And in between on the misty flats, the rest drift to and fro.
But to everyone there opens a way a high way and a low way. And everyone decides the way his soul shall go.
May the saints who have gone before us pray for each one of us here that we may have the courage to choose the high way.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Series II All Saints Revelation 7:2–4, 9–14; 1 John 3:1–3; Matthew 5:1–12a
How to be a saint We become saints by becoming the persons God made us to be. Phyllis McGinley was a modern American poet. In a book called Saint-Watching, she wrote:
When I was seven years old I wanted to be a tight-rope dancer and broke my collarbone practicing on a child’s-size high wire. At twelve I planned to become an international spy. At fifteen my ambition was the stage. Now in my sensible declining years I would give anything . . . to be a saint.
Phyllis McGinley’s humorous remarks make a fitting introduction to the feast of All Saints, which we celebrate today. They remind us that every one of us without exception is called to be a saint. Not one of us in this church today is called to be anything less than a saint.
This poses a knotty question: What is the best way to become a saint in the twentieth century? Is it to do what Saint Anthony did in the fourth century: turn our backs on the pleasures of this world and live apart from society?
Is it to do what Saint Francis did in the thirteenth century: turn our backs on material wealth and preach the Gospel wherever we can find a crowd and a soapbox?
Or is it to do something like Saint Elizabeth Seton did in the nineteenth century: raise a family and spend the rest of our lives working with society’s sick and needy?
The answer to these questions is no. And the reason that it’s no is obvious.
You don’t become a saint by doing what God made somebody else to do. You become a saint by doing what God made you to do.
Practically speaking, this means that if you are a parent at this moment in your life, that’s exactly the way God intends you to become a saint: by being the best parent you can be. And, practically speaking, if you are a student at this moment in your life, that’s exactly the way God intends you to become a saint: by being the best student you can be.
Or if you are an elderly couple at this moment in your life, that’s exactly the way God intends you to become a saint: by being the best elderly couple you can be. Let me illustrate what I mean with an example.
Some years ago an elderly couple lived on a large corner lot near an elementary school.
The children from the school had the habit of cutting across the corner of their lawn, wearing an ugly path through it.
At first this merely annoyed the couple, but after a while it angered them. The couple realized that something had to be done. The situation was poisoning their attitude toward the children and destroying their peace of mind.
The couple hit upon a solution. First they put crushed gravel on the path.
Then they lined it with flowers. After that they set a bench along the path. On afternoons when school let out, the couple sat on the bench and greeted the children as they passed by.
The response of the children was amazing. They stopped and thanked the couple for the path. They even asked the names of the flowers and, sometimes, sat down to talk to the couple.
In short, the couple turned an unhappy situation into a happy one.
That charming little story is also a beautiful illustration of what Jesus meant in today’s gospel when he said:
“Happy are those who work for peace; God will call them his children!” It means to turn a potentially angry situation into a delightfully happy one. And this leads us to our final point. If you are still in doubt about what it means to be a saint in today’s world, reread the Beatitudes in today’s gospel.
The Beatitudes spell out in simple terms the guidelines that we should use to live our lives. And if we live out these guidelines, as the elderly couple did, Jesus will someday say to us what he said to the people of his time in the Sermon on the Mount:
“Happy are you, the Kingdom of heaven is yours!”
Let’s close by paraphrasing the words of the poet John Oxenham. They sum up the option that Jesus sets before each one of us in today’s readings on this feast of All Saints:
To everyone there opens a way a high way and a low. The high soul takes the high way; the low soul takes the low. And in between on the misty flats, the rest drift to and fro.
But to everyone there opens a way a high way and a low. And everyone decides the way his soul shall go.
Series III All Saints Revelation 7:2–4, 9–14; 1 John 3:1–3; Matthew 5:1–12a
Peace Happy are those who work for peace; God will call them his children. Happy are those who work for peace; God will call them his children. Matthew 5:9
Most of us have seen photographs of the famous bronze statue known as “Christ of the Andes.”
It stands high atop a 12,000-foot peak of the Andes Mountains on the border of Argentina and Chile. It is one of the most photographed statues of Jesus in all the world.
The story behind the statue is fascinating and fits in with the readings for today’s feast of All Saints.
As Easter of 1900 approached, the armies of Argentina and Chile were lined up all along the border, ready to strike. War seemed inevitable.
Then Church leaders of both Argentina and Chile began a giant peace initiative. Every pastor in every church in both nations spoke against the war and prayed for peace.
Because of the outcry from the people, both governments sat down and settled their differences at a conference table. After the treaty was signed, the enormous guns prepared for battle were useless, so the two nations decided to melt them down and cast them into a great statue, several stories high. When the enormous statue was finished, it was pulled 13,000 feet up the mountain on gun carriages, drawn by mules.
The final steep rise in the mountain was maneuvered by thousands of soldiers and sailors pulling the statue by hand with great ropes.
On March 13, 1904, it was unveiled, and ever since has been known as “Christ of the Andes.” On the base of the huge statue is an inscription that reads:
Better these mountains should fall and crumble to dust than that the people of Chile and Argentina should break the peace sworn at the feet of Christ the Savior.
This story fits in beautifully with the Gospel reading for this great feast of All Saints.
It is from the Sermon on the Mount. A portion of it reads:
Happy are those who work for peace; God will call them his children.
In a world of increasing violence, that particular passage from the Sermon on the Mount holds a special meaning for us.
Jesus is telling us to do what the Catholic communities of Chile and Argentina did.
An example of what Jesus wants us to do is what Sir Hugh Beresford of the British navy did at the outset of World War II.
He assembled the huge crew of his battleship for a religious service. During the assembly, he prayed:
O God, our loving Father . . . Help us to keep in mind the real causes of war: dishonesty, greed, selfishness, and lack of love.
Drive them out of this ship, so that she may be a pattern of the new world for which we are fighting.
Beresford was simply reminding the crew members of his ship what great teachers have been telling people for centuries.
An ancient Chinese wise man explains it this way:
If there is right in the soul, there will be beauty in the person. If there is beauty in the person, there will be harmony in the home. If there is harmony in the home, there will be order in the nation. If there is order in the nation, there will be peace in the world. And this turns our focus back to each one of us here in this church.
The Gospel reading of today’s feast is a call for us to do what the saints of the Church have done throughout history. They set their hearts right with God.
It is a call for us to root out from our own lives the real causes of war: dishonesty, greed, selfishness, and lack of love.
It is a call for us to open our hearts to the peace that Jesus promised his followers before departing from this earth. He said to his disciples:
My peace I leave you; my own peace I give you.
This is the Good News contained in today’s gospel reading. This is the Good News that we celebrate in this liturgy.
This is the Good News Jesus wants us to share with our world.
Let us close with the prayer that Pope John Paul II prayed at Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima, Japan, during his visit there in 1981:
Oh God, hear my voice. It is the voice of the victims of all wars and violence perpetrated by individuals and nations.
O God, hear my voice. It is the voice of all children who suffer and will suffer when people put their faith in weapons and war, rather than in God and one another.
O God, hear my voice. I speak for the multitudes of people in every country and in every period of history who do not want war and are ready to walk the road of peace.
O God, hear my voice and grant insight and strength so that we may always respond to hatred with love, to injustice with justice, to need with generosity.
O God, hear my voice. Give peace to our world and let it begin with each one of us now, today, at this Eucharist. Slightly adapted