Friday, November 3, 2017

Small Steps to Heaven - Homily for the Solemnity of All Saints (2017)

A few days ago, we had the "Trunk or Treat" and a few kids dressed up as saints. There were also two boys who dressed up as... me. One dressed in black clerics and walked with a bike. The other one wore a kind of Mass vestment and toted a soccer ball. He wore a name tag and it said: "Hello, I'm Father Gerber, future patron saint of soccer players."

I'll take that! Haha! They have so easily pegged me!

Today is a joyful day, a day to celebrate the graces of God and the victory of these men and women we call saints.


I've read a lot about them and, in all of the books I've read, I've noticed that there is something that unites them, a common theme among them all. And that is, for each and every last one of them, all they had to do to become a saint was to respond to the good that God was calling them to do. Just respond to the good.

That's it.

No matter how far off the reservation in sin they had been, whether it was a life of it as in the case of the good thief, or Mary Magdalene, or Augustine-- the one thing that turned everything around and helped them to grow was that response to God's invitation to do good. And yeah, it wasn't easy: it started with repentance, with saying sorry. It meant suffering: Monica cried a lot for her family who had fallen away. But each day in them there was a call to do good. And what made them all saints was that they kept on responding to it-- even after a fall, they kept getting up. One stair, on step at a time, all the way to heaven.


Here's where I've also realized something about saints-- something that I've read from the book of everyday experience: no matter who you are, it's very easy to think that the saints are distant, that they aren't real. When I talk about the saints at the school, for example, the kids think they aren't real. I mean, they know they are real-- but not REALLY real... I mean, we're talking about people from the Middle Ages ... across the Ocean... a long time ago, in a land far away-- it's so easy for the kids (and for all of us) to think it's make believe.

Or that the saints are museum pieces, fuzzy art on holy cards, caricatures of grace that no "normal" human being can ever actually attain. Anomalies...

They don't see that right here, people are growing in holiness and becoming saints. I mean, what would we expect a saint to look like? I think the children would be surprised that there are people in these pews who are close to sainthood-- that there are even some children in our school who are walking in this grace. The saints aren't distant at all. They were just like you, listening to sermons just like this, breathing the same air you breathe, living and working in the same world in which we live and work.


If I may, let me give you an example. Her name is Blessed Chiara Luce Badano.

Chiara was a beautiful and joyful Italian woman who lived in our own times-- she was a teenager in the 1980s. And for those of you who didn't live in the 1980s, you totally missed out.

Chiara was beautiful, but she wasn't a saint from birth-- none of us are! She was strong-willed and argued a bit with her parents. On one occasion, she stole from her neighbor's apple tree. Her parents caught her and taught her that stealing was bad.

(Notice, this saint's path to holiness began with her parents teaching her the difference between right and wrong).

Chiara remembered this lesson and a change began in her: if stealing was wrong, then giving is right: I must give.

So, when Chiara would go to school, her mom would pack her a snack-- haha, just like parents do today! Chiara would take her snack to school and she would see someone without a lunch. Something in Chiara would well up in her heart, something that told her what was good: and Chiara responded by giving the poor student her own snack.

Of course, teachers noticed this and that Chiara wasn't eating lunch, so they told Mrs. Badano-- just like today: in parent-teacher conferences! Mrs. Badano told Chiara that it was nice of her to share; so Mrs. Badano (also a saint in the making) started to pack Chiara two snacks and told her: "Ok, Chiara, this one is for the poor, this one is for you." Chiara went to school with two snacks, but there was a pull in her heart-- so Chiara gave them both away!

See? This is all it takes.


Now, lest we think that Chiara was some porcelain doll at age 9, let me be clear that she was just like any girl: she loved pop music and singing and dancing. She lived in the 1980s, so she likely knew Michael Jackson's "Thriller" and The Bangles' "Walk Like An Egyptian." Chiara loved tennis and likely knew Steffi Graf and Pete Sampras. Chiara loved to hike and to swim, but she wasn't a great student-- even failing freshman year of high school.

(Don't do that, by the way).

So, needless to say, she was very much like a teenage girl.

When she was 16, she went on a retreat (as many high school girls do) and was drawn to an image-- an image of Jesus Foresaken. Chiara was moved that Jesus was being forgotten.

(So, you see-- there's that movement again... Something is welling up in her...)

She responds to that and promises Jesus that if others forget Him, she will remember Him. And so she makes that resolution at that retreat: Jesus, I will remember you.

A little thereafter, Chiara becomes sick. It's bone cancer. And it's not looking good. So she prays: "Ok, Jesus, if you want it, I want it too." Small prayer-- but that's the stuff of saints.

Chiara enters the hospital and there meets some patients who are depressed. (It's easy to become depressed or to throw pity parties when we are sick). Chiara decides that she is instead going to remember Jesus and bring joy. So she goes on walks with other patients. With bone cancer, these walks would be very painful-- but it would be all for them and for Jesus. Chiara's parents often encouraged her to rest, but she would simply reply, "I'll be able to sleep later on."

When her chemotherapy started to cause her beautiful hair to fall out, with each strand of hair Chiara would say, "For you, Jesus."

Later, when it was revealed that she wouldn't recover, she said "If I had to choose between walking again and going to heaven, I wouldn't hesitate, I would choose heaven." #Priorities.


Knowing that she was going to die, Chiara started making preparations-- for others. What I mean by that is, she started to prepare her parents for life after her death. By that I mean-- her parents refused to leave her bedside, so she bought them dinner reservations to a restaurant for St. Valentine's Day-- and she ordered them not to return until after midnight.

She gave all of her savings to a friend who was doing mission work in Africa.

After that, she said: "At this point, I have nothing left, but I still have my heart and with that I can always love."

... I still have my heart and with that I can always love!

With her friends gathered, she said to them and to all young people: "I can't run anymore, but how I would like to pass on to you the torch, like the Olympics! ... You have only one life and it's worthwhile to spend it well."

Spend it on love!

Finally, when the time was near for her passing, Chiara made a request: she wanted to be buried in a white dress, kind of like a wedding. She wanted to wear a white dress for when she met Jesus-- because she wasn't able to get married in this life, and Jesus was her forever love.


That's it.

Chiara's feast day was just a few days ago: October 29th.

By the end of her life, she is doing incredible things. But notice how it started: responding to the good: to avoid stealing, to start giving... These are steps to heaven .... small steps to heaven...  to start giving sacrificially ... to remember Jesus ... to remember Jesus when in pain ... to see others in pain and see Jesus.... each step greater than the next... all the way to heaven.


We ask for the Saints' help. They have given us great example and great hope-- let us ask them to help us.

And someday, if we respond to this grace, we will be able to meet them. You will be able to talk with Chiara and all your favorite saints.

And you will do something amazing from heaven: in the words of St. Thesese, you will even spend your heaven doing good on earth. From heaven, you will be able to help your children and your grandchildren and great-grandchildren who, we pray, after you are still in these pews. And maybe they will have known you to be a saint-- or maybe they never saw that you were-- but whether they saw it or not, there are future saints who are sitting here right now in these pews.

Shoot, you're probably sitting in a pew where, years before, another saint was sitting. Something to think about. Because if they are in heaven, maybe a grandma or great-grandpa-- they are likely praying for you right now. We can ask Chiara and all the saints to pray for us now. Blessed Chiara, pray for us! All you holy men and women, pray for us!

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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