Homily for the Feast of All Saints
Fr. Michael Fones, OP
“Oh Father, you're so holy.”
It's not unusual to hear lay people say that.
They're always people who don't know me, but simply see the habit and make an assumption.
In the future, I hope to have the presence of mind to take a cue from Jesus, and respond differently than my usual, “aw shucks, I bet you say that to every Dominican” shtick.
When Jesus was asked, “Good teacher, what must I do to obtain eternal life?” He responded, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.”
I hope I have the wits to ask, “Why do you presume I'm holy?”
I honestly don't know why an individual would presume I'm holy. (or yours!)
Perhaps it's wishful thinking on their part.
It could be because they presume I pray a lot.
Or they think “poor Fr. Mike's given up so much to be a Dominican” – meaning primarily sex and a family of my own.
Or maybe they presume that I was already holy before I became a Dominican, and that religious life and priesthood is the sad fate of those unfortunately pre-disposed to holiness.
I really need to ask why someone would marvel at my level of holiness because I suspect the unspoken thought is, “I, a mere lay person, can't be holy. Not really.”
But of course, that's wrong.
Of the over 450 saints canonized by Pope John Paul II, more than half of them were lay people.
St. Francis de Sales classic, “Introduction to the Devout Life” is all about the path to holiness through the ordinary.
In the Apostolic Letter "At the Dawn of the New Millennium,” Pope John Paul noted: "The ways of holiness are many, according to the vocation of each individual. I thank the Lord that in these years he has enabled me to beatify and canonize a large number of Christians, and among them many lay people who attained holiness in the most ordinary circumstances of life" (n. 31).
It should be noted in this context that the Beatitudes in the Gospel today are given to the disciples and the crowds.
They're meant to be lived by us all.
They're not a new set of commandments, but a description of those who are blessed, or “happy,” as another translation of the Greek word makarios allows.
But what he describes as happy people sounds strange.
They're poor in spirit - people who are dependent upon God, who are willing to receive from Him, who trust Him to give what is sufficient for today.
They're like Simon the fisherman, who lets Jesus get in his boat after he's fished all night and caught nothing, who lets Jesus direct him – “put out into deep water; lower your nets for a catch.”
Even though he's tired, he does it, and with Jesus hauls in a huge catch of fish.
People who trust God so completely don't worry – and so are already entering the Kingdom.
And they will see God at work in their life.
How can mourners be happy? Because they're not addicted to feeling good.
They fail a metaphysics exam and don't have to drop $50 at the Gap to start feeling good again.
They can accept unhappiness as a part of the human condition.
One way God comforts them is by turning their attention from what's missing in their life to all the good that He's giving them.
And the meek? They're happy because they aren't trying to control the behaviors of other people.
Ever try to get your brother to cooperate with your plans?
If that made you happy, then you must also enjoy herding cats.
The merciful are like God; they are good to those who haven't earned that goodness.
Their happiness lies in the fact that they aren't keeping score – how many good things have I done for you versus how many good things you've done for me.
The peacemakers are happy and will be called children of God because, like God, they seek to gather people together – especially people who have become estranged.
So these meek, poor, peaceful, mourners are different from most folks.
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger said the saints “express the divine in the human, and the eternal in time.”
They're not addicted to power, pleasure, honor or wealth – and there's tremendous freedom there.
They aren't caught up in comparing themselves with others, or needing the approval of others.
It's a freedom that is a foretaste of the joy and freedom of heaven.
As a consequence of that freedom, the holy ones among us are stunning in their individuality.
It's like they're lit up from within by God himself, like the burning bush that is on fire, but not consumed, or a disciple at Pentecost, flames – or halo - hovering overhead.
The holy one is a person who is free to be the unique person that God created them to be.
Out of all the problems in the world around them, they discover a set of problems – or even one - to which they are uniquely suited to respond.
The problem is a locked cell that imprisons others – perhaps in ignorance, or in hunger, doubt, hatred, loneliness, poverty, lust, or any of the other plagues that beset humanity.
The saint is a key fitted perfectly for that lock, and through their love and service, lives are set free so that they can fulfill their potential.
We struggle to fit the saintly into neat conventional categories, or dismiss them with labels like, insane, or heretic, or – sometimes - saint.
Dorothy Day wouldn't accept that last label precisely because she didn't want to be dismissed that easily.
Every one of us has been created for a purpose, for a special way of being-for-others.
Discovering that purpose, that unique way to use our spiritual gifts, natural talents, skills and experience to help others is the surest way to personal satisfaction and meaning.
Living as God intends you to live, to the fullest of the abilities He's given you, is the way you glorify God.
I would say the more we foster one another's holiness, the more unique we will become.
Although we friars may dress alike, if we are becoming more holy, no one will ever mistake one brother for another.
The true Christian community is not composed of people who act and think the same, but who are passionate about and responsive to many different challenges in our world.
Thus, even in the shadow of Auschwitz St. Maximillian Kolbe could observe, “Only Love is creative.”
That creativity of God is witnessed in the lives of the saints.
May we allow that divine creativity to be made flesh in each other, as we draw our inspiration from the saints, and hope to become one with them.