Sunday, November 1, 2015

Be Heroic. Be a Saint.

Today we interrupt our Sundays of Ordinary Time to celebrate the great Feast of All Saints. This feast always falls on November 1st and it's one of the rare feasts in our church calendar that will replace the Sunday celebration. So this is the middle of kind of a three-day reflection on what happens after we day. On October 31st, Halloween, we kind of reflect a little bit on hell, today, All Saints Day, we focus on heaven, and tomorrow, All Souls Day, we focus on those in Purgatory.

So this is one of the high water marks of the Church's liturgical year. The feast of all the saints is where we get to pay homage and respect to everyone who has completed the journey, to everyone who has finished the race. We get to turn to all of them, and ask for their help. Every time we pray the Creed we proclaim our belief in the Communion of Saints, so let's make sure we have a good understanding of what that means.

When a person lives a virtuous life that would be we would all do well to imitate, and they end up having a following either in life or in death, then the Church conducts an investigation into that person's life and eventually declares that person a Saint. With this we're talking about those names we know like St. Padre Pio, St. John Paul II, or St. Therese of Lisieux. Declaring a person a saint is a statement of affirmation on the Church's part that we're sure this person is already in heaven and so is in a position to intercede for us. This declaration, what we call canonization or raising to the altars, doesn't send this person to heaven or do a darn thing for them, because they're already in the presence of God Himself, so nothing we say or do for them improves their position at all. Rather, the Church makes this proclamation for our sake, for those of us still working our way to heaven, to serve as examples and sources of help on our way.

But those who are declared saints only make up one part of the communion of saints. When we talk about the communion of saints, or All Saints Day, we mean everyone who is in heaven, everyone who stands before the Throne of God, both those we know about and those we don't know about. Like, I firmly believe that my grandmother is in heaven, and if she is that makes her a part of the communion of saints. But I don't expect the Church to conduct a formal investigation into her life and declare her a saint, nor do I expect shrines and churches to be built in her honor. But if she is indeed in heaven, then she is a part of the communion of saints that we celebrate this day.

Now, Jesus told us to enter through the narrow gate, because the gate that leads to destruction is wide and those who enter through it are many (Matt 7:13). So when we celebrate the feast of all the saints, we commemorate and honor this great band of misfits and weirdos who didn't do what the popular thing. We celebrate those who didn't go along with the crowds, those who didn't do what was popular. We celebrate those who did what Jesus said to do in today's gospel. We celebrate those who wept while the world rejoiced, those who were hungry while the world was full, those who were merciful when the world was cold and heartless. We celebrate them because now they're receiving their reward.

We celebrate them and honor them because they want to help us. The saints are not disconnected from us, they're still a part of the Body of Christ, the Church. So the Church exists in three forms: The Church Militant, the Church Suffering, and the Church Triumphant.  The Church Militant is us on earth, the ones still fighting the good fight. The Church Suffering refers to those in Purgatory, those who are being purified of their sins, and the Church Triumphant refers to those saints in heaven, those who have made it. It is the job of the Church Triumphant to intercede for those who are still on the way, for us and for the souls in Purgatory.

So it's vitally important that we enlist the help of the saints in our fight against sin and in our journey to heaven, because it is possible to miss the mark. It is possible to end up in hell. Hell is not so much a punishment inflicted by God but rather the natural consequence of my own free choices against God and his goodness. Jesus tells us that wide is this path and that many choose it. So our job in this Christian life is to be a weirdo. Be a misfit. Our job is to be poor in spirit, to mourn, to be meek, to hunger and thirst for righteousness, to be clean of heart. Today Jesus gives us the instruction manual for getting to heaven. But this is not how the world lives. The world does not live according the values of the Beatitudes. And this is not a criticism of the modern world because at no time in history, ever since Adam's original sin, has the world lived according to the Beatitudes. They don't make you rich, they don't make you happy, and they don't make you successful, at least as far as the world measures wealth, happiness, and success. But they set you on a trajectory to realize true wealth, true happiness, and true success in the kingdom where they actually exist.

Louis and Zelie, just your normal everyday heroes
A cardinal in our Church recently said that, "Heroism is not for the average Christian," but I completely disagree with that. Holiness is nothing less than heroism. Because a couple weeks ago something momentous happened in the life of the Church. A husband and wife, Louis and Zelie Martin, the parents of St. Therese of Lisieux, were canonized saints, and this is momentous because they are the first spouses ever to be canonized as a couple. And they didn't change the world, they didn't travel to far off lands to convert the masses. They just lived the faith, raised their kids well, and passed the faith onto them. I'm sure they fought with each other. I only say this because they were married. They fought with each other but they persevered. They sinned their whole lives through just like you and me, but they went to Confession. This makes them truly heroic, because heroism truly is for the average Christian.

So your job today and every day is to take the saints as your standard and say, "How am I doing?" Your job is to be a misfit in this world, your job is to not be one of the crowd on the wide road to hell. So if you look around you and you look at yourself, and you don't see a whole lot of difference between you and the world, it's time to get to work. Pick the sin in your life that most drastically affects your relationship with God, and then figure out a game plan for what you're going to do about it. Don't settle for, "Well, I try to be a good person." Be specific. Pick a sin you need to eradicate, and pick the opposing virtue you need to grow in. Figure out how you're going to do it. Are you going to say a particular prayer every time you commit this sin? Perhaps take on a penance every time you commit the sin? Or is the sin you need to work on really serious? Do you need to confide in a trusted friend and ask them to hold you accountable for virtue in this area? Pick the sin you need to work on, and come up with a plan of action. When you come up with a plan of action, enlist a particular saint to help you, especially one who has struggled with that same sin. Also make sure that plan of action involves Confession because you can only grow closer to God by the methods he has made available to you. By patiently but deliberately working on the particular sins in our lives, each of us can truly practice heroic virtue. We ask the saints to help us in this. We entrust ourselves to their intercession and to the mercy of God as we all seek one day to join the communion of saints.

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