Once in a lifetime opportunity
7 November 2010
Every time we recite the Creed we profess our belief in the ‘communion of saints’- that communion which includes us living on earth, the Faithful Departed who are still journeying through purgatory and the saints, the Faithful Departed who are already home with God.
In this homily I want to look at the role of the saints in our lives and some of the contentious issues around our devotion to saints.
I came across a delightful definition of a saint offered by an eleven year old:
She said: “A saint is someone that the light shines through.”
We are all created and called to be saints. Every one of us, Catholic and non-Catholic, Christian and non-Christian is called to be someone through whom the light of Christ shines. We believe that the fullness of the truth about God and salvation was revealed to humanity by Jesus and that that truth is preserved and protected in the Church under the guidance of the pope, the Successor of St Peter.
Salvation and the fullness of God’s revelation is in and through Christ In the Church.
But we know from the OT and from Jesus that the Father’s will is that salvation be offered to everyone to accept or refuse and the Church doesn’t exclude the possibility of salvation for non-Catholics, and non-Christians. The light of Christ is everywhere and in everything – even in the lives of those who don’t recognise it.
In John’s vision from which we heard an extract in the first reading, the number of saints is impossible to count; people of every nation, race, tribe and language.
Saints are men and women who lived holy lives and are now in heaven for eternity. They are our heroes and our role models.
Our devotion to the saints is often misunderstood by non-Catholics who accuse us of idolatry and worshipping the dead. We do nothing of the kind. Adoration and worship is reserved exclusively for God and the saints are very much alive.
I was in Sandton last week and met with a friend in Nelson Mandela Square dominated by a 6 metre tall sculpture of him as a tribute to him as a statesman and a hero of our country. We look at the statue with a sense of pride and gratitude. I’m sure that after Mr Mandela has died he will continue to be remembered and perhaps even have a day dedicated to his memory every year. That hardly seems strange or weird or akin to idol worship. It’s surely then not difficult to understand why we should want to remember and celebrating the lives of our heroes in faith, the saints. The celebration of the Feast of All Saints dates back about 1400 years.
Praying to the saints is also often misunderstood.
Non-Catholics will say that Jesus is the one and only mediator between God and humankind – and we agree completely.
However, in the Bible, we see many examples of people asking Jesus for favours on behalf of others – they are interceding on behalf of someone else. Think of the Roman centurion who approached Jesus on behalf of his servant. Jesus didn’t say “He doesn’t need your intercession, particularly not your intercession – you’re a heathen! Let him come to me directly.”
Instead Jesus responded to the blind faith of the centurion and healed his servant. The centurion didn’t perform the healing, God did. Saints don’t perform miracles, only God does. Whatever response, miracles or reply we get to our prayers made through a saint comes from God alone.
We don’t have to prayer to the saints or for that matter ask living people on earth to pray for us; but we do – because we can!
Saints are heroes but they are not superheroes. They weren’t born as saints with supernatural powers. They came from ordinary families, some rich some poor; some were very bright and some were very average; some died young and some lived to old age. Some got married, some remained single and some entered religious life. They didn’t have all the answers to the difficult questions and they were not spared pain and suffering; disappointments, setbacks, frustrations and regrets. On the contrary many of them suffered terribly; physically, mentally and spiritually. They all made mistakes but they never stopped trying to do and be better; ordinary people who made it to heaven; ordinary people who tried their best to be obedient servants of God.
We have all encountered saints in our lives and we could remember and give thanks for them in our prayers as we celebrate their feast day today. We also look forward to that day when we will be counted amongst the saints and this will be our feast day.
In the Gospel reading, Jesus gives us some guidelines to sainthood.
We could use the beatitudes as a frame of reference for our potential sainthood when that time comes – and that may be sooner rather than later.
We could ask ourselves today:
– are we poor in spirit;
beggars before God – always hungry; always grateful for the gifts that we receive
– are we gentle;
meekly accepting our limitations, our failings, our suffering and submitting humbly in obedience to God
– do we mourn;
are we aware of the enormous suffering caused by evil in the world and do we pray and work for comfort for those in distress
– do we hunger and thirst for what is right;
demonstrate a fierce appetite for moral and religious rightness
– are we merciful;
feeding the hungry, visiting the sick, counselling the doubtful; have we forgiven those who have hurt and wronged us
– are we pure of heart;
our actions motivated by good intentions, integrity, honesty and moral decency
– are we peacemakers;
preserving friendship within our families, our loved ones and our neighbours; and also in our and their relationship with God
– are we persecuted in the cause of right;
standing up for what we believe to be true and being prepared to be criticised , ridiculed and rejected rather than surrender to the dictates and values of a valueless and cynical society
God calls us all to become great saints.
This is a once in a lifetime opportunity.
Let’s not miss it.