Sunday, November 01, 2009

The Feast of All Saints

I've always thought of it as a day to honor those who reached the heights of sanctity, but what stands out to me on this All Saints' Day is the call to become saints ourselves. Today's Office of Readings has a fine sermon by St. Bernard on that theme:

Come, brothers, let us at length spur ourselves on. We must rise again with Christ, we must seek the world which is above and set our mind on the things of heaven. Let us long for those who are longing for us, hasten to those who are waiting for us, and ask those who look for our coming to intercede for us.

Which reminds me of St. Paul:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

And St. Peter:

Just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: "Be holy, because I am holy."

And one more from St. Paul:

You are the temple of the living God, just as God has said:

"I will dwell with them and walk among them.
I will be their God
and they shall be my people."

Since we have these promises, beloved, let us purify ourselves from every defilement of flesh and spirit, and in the fear of God strive to fulfill our consecration perfectly.

Those are exactly the kind of passages I used to resist thinking about, except for the short length of time it took to explain them away. Surely my own self-centered way of life was all God expected of me. If he wanted anything more he'd send me a sign, right? It didn't occur to me that those Bible passages might themselves be the sign; I read the Bible every night but I sure wasn't planning on being changed by it. I was a lukewarm Evangelical in those days, and I figured we're all just hopeless sinners covered by Christ's righteousness, with no merit of our own nor any way to please God by ourselves. So all this stuff about striving and becoming holy and running a race and fulfilling our consecration, all that just meant living a reasonably good life while having faith in Christ who would do the rest for me, right? I'd tell myself this and then, with an uneasy conscience, I'd dismiss the subject.

But now I think those passages mean exactly what they say, and if I miss that, then no matter what else I might accomplish, I will have failed at life. We really are supposed to be every bit as zealous as the apostles who wrote the New Testament. It's not meant to be a rare choice for the elite. Holiness is what God wants of all of us. And... this is the part I didn't even believe till I became Catholic... it is actually possible. With God's help we can, in fact, become holy. Not just sinful people who appear holy in God's sight by a kind of legal fiction because we've appropriated the merits of Christ. By God's grace we ourselves can be holy. People have actually done it!

It's so helpful to remember the saints, celebrate their feast days, learn about their lives, hear sermons about them. I read somewhere that the Holy Spirit is the author of two books: the Bible and the lives of the saints. He speaks to us through the saints of what is possible, what our lives could be if we don't settle for less.

To reach the same conclusion by a very different approach: if you've ever wanted to ask me, "Rachel, what's wrong with the world and what do you plan to do about it?", this article by Peter Kreeft could be my answer. The point he works up to is that we all need to become saints.

But all this gets overwhelming when I'm faced with the huge gap between my high calling and my low way of living. I want to be a saint!-- and I just spent another day kind of doing nothing... I'm going to be holy!-- right after I'm done checking YouTube...

That's why I loved the sermon I heard a few weeks ago at Thomas Aquinas College. It was very short; the Dominican priest climbed up to the pulpit and mostly quoted from St. Francis de Sales for a few minutes, and then climbed back down and got on with the TLM he was saying. But his few words made a huge impression on me. Patience and courage, he said. Those are two key virtues for the reform of life, because after striving to overcome sinful habits, and still being full of imperfection, we may become discouraged and give up. For us, perfection may consist in continually striving to overcome our sins. We give in far too easily to discouragement. So patience, and courage. Every day, strive for conversion.

Now how can I end this post gracefully? To the 1962 Missal, quick!

Almighty and everlasting God, Who hast enabled us to honor in one solemn feast the merits of all Thy Saints: we beseech Thee, that, with so many praying for us, Thou wouldst pour forth on us the abundance of Thy mercy for which we long.


JimAroo said...

"Sanctity is not the privilege of the few but the obligation of all"
Blessed Mother Teresa

This is an excellent clarification on the difference between the Catholic and Protestant understanding of both human nature and our ability to grow in holiness.

Rachel Gray said...

Thanks Jim. :)