Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Homily on the Solemnity for All Saints Day

Why is All Saints Day a Holy Day of Obligation? And more: why do we Catholics ask the saints to pray for us? Why not just go straight to Jesus? – have you ever been asked that?

In this Year of Faith, we are called to look more closely at our faith and begin to give eloquent defenses of our faith. So let’s answer these questions.

When we explain to people why the saints are important, we can use the Story of Two Kings:

The first king: he has beautiful tapestries and art, beautiful music, growing more and more beautiful the closer you get to the throne room. And then you hear the voices of a happy people, each arrayed in glory and beautiful to behold. And then you see Him, the one which drew you in with all of the beauty and glory, the great king who lavishes his wealth and love upon all who are around him.

The second king: he has nothing beautiful around him; no art, no music, no people-- nothing that could possibly take your attention from him. It is then that you realize why. Because this king is jealous of his glory. He doesn’t want you to become distracted by anything else.

Which king is more glorious? The first, of course. Because this king is glorious and generous, he lavishes his glory on everyone and everything that surrounds him. He is not jealous of his glory, nor is he worried that you will focus for a moment on the beauty of a tapestry or of a person in his court. That you would marvel at these things itself gives greater honor and glory to the king.

Jesus is that first king. And He invites us to get to know the saints so that we can be drawn in to His glory.

So, why ask for their prayers? James tells us:

"The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects. Elijah was a man of like nature with ourselves and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth its fruit" (Jas. 5:16–18).

Yet the saints in heaven are more righteous, since they have been made perfect to stand in God's presence (cf. Heb 12:22-23) than anyone on earth, thus meaning their prayers would be even more efficacious. This does not take away God's glory. Rather, God's glory shines through them-- and he employs them still (in a way, like the angels) to bring others (namely, us) into His glory.

A few saints, then, for your consideration.....

St. Paul.
Was Jewish. Killed Christians. Was feared by Christians everywhere. Then something happened and he wrote a few letters that we still read at Mass. Was martyred.

St. Augustine
Lost his faith as a youth, led a wild life, made his mother cry. Told the Lord: “God, give me chastity and continence – but not just now.” But one day, he uncovered a Bible, studied, converted, and sold all he had. Why? He said because “Our hearts were made for You, O Lord, and they are restless until they rest in you.”
St. Monatnus and St. Maxima.
A married couple. Arrested by a Roman Governor, Probus, for being Christian. Probus publicly questioned them and tried to persuade them to deny Christ. Much to the surprise of the crowd, their fidelity and apostolic courage proved to be great. In fact, when St. Maxima stood up to speak, she defended her faith so convincingly and with such eloquent zeal that Probus cut the trial short, fearing mass conversions to Christianity. Probus promptly beheaded them and threw them into the river.

St. Francis of Assisi
Everyone knows him, but they focus on the animals. They forget that he was once a soldier and a prisoner of war. When he converted to the faith, he was disowned by his family. Oh, and he founded the Franciscans. Wanting never to find his comfort in worldly things, Francis on his deathbed gave his cloak away and then proceeded to lay down on the bare ground, asking one of his brothers to read the Passion of Jesus according to St. John—at the end of which, naturally, he died.

St. Kateri Tekawitha
Was canonized less than two weeks ago. Born of a Mohawk chief who hated Christians, Kateri nevertheless was attracted to Jesus. As a young girl, she nearly died from smallpox, which left her with scars on her face. She asked to be baptized and was—and as a result she was shunned and abused by her relatives. She escaped towards Quebec where she did work with poor and the orphaned. The miracle after her death which sealed her canonization was that of Jake Finkbonner. Jake had a flesh-eating bacteria on his face that was so bad that doctors gave no hope of recovery. Jake received last rites. But the family had a devotion to Kateri. Jake miraculously recovered. And all that was left was… yes, you guessed it… a few scars on his face, just like Kateri.

St. Bernadette
Born as a poor peasant girl, Bernadette was hired out as a servant by her parents and became a shepherdess. She didn’t know how to read or write. But Mary visited her and asked Bernadette to follow her. Bernadette obliged and Mary led her to a spring. Since then, nearly 200 million people have come to this spring and many have been miraculously healed. You might know of the town where this spring is. It’s Lourdes. Oh, and when Bernadette asked Mary her name, Mary said, “I am the Immaculate Conception.” An interesting name given to a shepherdess who couldn’t read; it was the same name that was made a dogma just a couple years prior.
St. Gianna
A modern-day saint. Gianna was happily married and had three kids. But during her fourth pregnancy, she was told that she had an illness that would kill her if she gave birth. She was advised to abort the child. She refused, telling the doctors: “If you must decide between me and the child, do not hesitate: choose the child - I insist on it. Save her.” Gianna gave birth and died a week later. Oh, and Gianna was a pediatrician. When Pope John Paul II—now a blessed—canonized her, he said, “The extreme sacrifice she sealed with her life testifies that only those who have the courage to give of themselves totally to God and to others are able to fulfill themselves.” And did I mention that Gianna liked to ski?

As you hear these stories, I'm sure some things might have surprised you. The human-ness... maybe it was how many were such sinners...  maybe it was the conditions in which they lived. For me, I am just struck by God's generosity. His grace turns sinners into saints; gives ordinary men and women the extraordinary strength to lead extraordinary lives—even, and especially, in ordinary circumstances.

These saints inspire me, encourage me, call me on to persevere, and they give me hope: the same God that bestowed glory upon them is the same God that offers us His glory right here, right now. And there is the added hope: the saints were just like us. They started as sinners in need of grace.

In this Eucharist, let us find the God who lavished His glory upon them. And ask Him to be generous with us once more! So that, one day, we might join into the company of the King and All His Saints.

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