Solemnity of All Saints, November 1, 2015
Solemnity of All Saints
November 1, 2015
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
The Solemnity of All Saints is one of the most important feasts of the year.
First because this is the feast of not only the canonized saints,
the ones officially proclaimed as saints by the Church,
but it’s also the feast of the countless numbers of ordinary folks
who’ve died and gone to heaven.
Perhaps, for example, hopefully, our deceased grandparents, or parents,
or even our children.
They are saints too, and this is their feast day—the feast of ALL Saints.
But as wonderful as that is,
this feast also reminds us that WE are also called to be saints
—in heaven one day, but also right here and right now on earth.
We are meant to be part of the Communion of Saints
—the great family in Christ of those in heaven, purgatory and earth.
When I was about 4 years old,
I remember my 10-year-old sister coming to me and saying:
“Johnny, let’s be saints.”
At first I was a little scared, since my sister was a little adventuresome,
and some of her schemes
had almost gotten me killed on several occasions.
I was afraid she had something in mind that might send me to heaven right then.
Of course she didn’t.
She just thought it made sense for us to be saints
—to be what Jesus called us to be, to be what he created us to be.
She was just thinking with the clarity of mind and simplicity of heart
that only children can have: “Let’s be saints.”
But it’s not a unique idea at all.
That’s what all this is about—that’s what the Bible is about,
and what the Church is about.
To be a Catholic, a Christian, even to be a human being, really,
is to be someone created and called to be a saint.
Think about it.
God didn’t create us to be rich, or to be selfish,
or to use each other for gain or pleasure.
And He didn’t even create us just to be nice to or take care of each other.
The first words of Scripture tell us God created us in his image,
to live and love as he does.
And then he explained how to do this, first through his prophets
and then by coming to earth as a man, Jesus Christ,
to teach us how to live and love through his words and example,
and especially through His death and resurrection.
And to live this way–to live and love perfectly as he lives and loves–
is to be what we call a “saint.”
That’s how they live and love in heaven,
and that’s how we are called to live and love on earth.
And so Jesus told us: “be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Now, no one on earth is perfect; as St. Paul says, “we are all sinners.”
But who among us doesn’t want to be perfect?
Parents, do you want to be a mediocre mom or dad, much less a bad one
—in your heart of hearts, wouldn’t you really love to be a perfect parent?
And, who wants to be married to a mediocre husband or wife,
—in your hearts don’t you want to be a perfect husband or wife,
married to a perfect spouse?
In school, do you want an F or an A, a 50% grade, or a 100%?
At work, do you want to get fired or be a success?
We do want to be perfect, but we aren’t.
We want to be saints, but we aren’t.
But we can and should try—it’s what we’re made for, and it’s what we long for.
The saddest thing is, not that people aren’t perfect or even trying to be perfect,
but that so many people have embraced not trying to be perfect,
and some have even embraced imperfection itself as if it’s a good thing.
Here’s what I mean.
You hear people saying, “who are you to judge?”
but then they use that to justify doing something immoral, or unjust.
They say, “no one’s perfect,” but what they really mean is,
“I’m perfectly happy with my imperfections
—I like being angry, or impatient, or gossipy, or grouchy, or unforgiving,
or greedy, or envious, or lustful.”
We saw a good example of this writ large
during the Synod of Bishops in Rome that ended last weekend.
The issue was whether a person who divorces and then remarries
without a Church annulment
can receive Holy Communion.
Basically what some were saying is
that we have to stop thinking of adultery as a mortal sin.
They say that indissoluble or permanent marriage is an ideal,
but not very realistic.
In other words, no-divorce marriage is the perfect, but no one’s perfect.
Which would make adultery okay—and maybe even good.
But as Archbishop Charles Chaput, the Franciscan archbishop of Philadelphia,
told the other bishops: this is a message of
This leads to a spirit of compromise with certain sinful patterns of life
and the reduction of Christian truths …to a set of beautiful ideals
— which then leads to surrendering
the redemptive mission of the Church.”
As Christians it is not our mission to compromise the truth,
especially about redemption from imperfection to perfection.
Mercy does not give up on sinners to leave them wallowing in their imperfection.
No, rather it loves the sinner enough to recognize
that they are capable of becoming saints.
Mercy does not celebrate imperfection or evil,
but celebrates the fact that God calls us all
to share in his perfect love and life.
Every day we face, as Archbishop Chaput said,
“two conflicting views: …. despair or a decision to hope.”
The view that the perfection Jesus created and calls us to
is completely unattainable leads to despair, hopelessness.
But Christians are not about despair, we are about hope!
As Christians we have hope in the promises that Jesus makes to us,
that if we live as he teaches us
and cooperate with the grace he gives us
we can begin to be saints on earth,
and eventually share in the total perfection of the saints in heaven.
And what does Jesus teach us about striving for that perfection?
Go back to the Gospel from 3 weeks ago
when the rich young man asked, “what must I do to gain eternal life,”
in other words, “how do I become a saint”?
Jesus responds, first of all, “keep the [ten] commandments.”
That’s the first step, and no journey can begin without the first step.
But then he goes on to say there’s more to it than that:
“If you want to be perfect …sell what you have …. … and follow me.”
That’s a hard saying to understand, until he puts it in context.
And he puts in context in a beautiful way in today’s Gospel: the beatitudes.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit…they who mourn…the meek
…those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…the merciful
…the clean/pure of heart…the peacemakers
…they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness… because of me.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.”
Now, by “blessed” Jesus doesn’t mean “fortunate” or “happy”
—in Scripture “blessed” means somehow
sharing in the perfection of the glory of God.
So he’s saying, in short, if you want to be blessed, or perfect or saints,
don’t let anyone or anything,
any riches, desires, insults or persecution,
come between you and God.
Of course, all this is easier said than done.
And so if we go back again to the story of the rich young man,
which itself comes right after Jesus’ teaching about
how keeping the commandments
includes no divorce and remarriage,
we find that at the end of all these hard sayings
the apostles protest, saying
“then who can be saved?”
—in other words, “nobody’s perfect” or “who can be a saint?”
And then Jesus responds so beautifully:
“for man it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.”
Yes, the road to heaven, striving for saintly perfection, is long and hard.
But we need not surrender to despair,
if we would just place our hope in Christ.
And imagine if we would embrace all this:
the pursuit of perfection or sainthood
informed by the teaching of Christ
and empowered by His grace.
Imagine how that would transform, for example, marriage.
If husbands and wives strove every day, with the grace of Christ,
to become loving servants to each other,
as Christ loves and serves his people and even died for them.
Marriage would no longer be about self-gratifying selfishness,
but about mutual love and self-gift.
And then sex would no longer be about lust and self-satisfaction,
but about love and generosity.
And families would then be on the road to perfection
and husbands and wives and children would be striving to be saints.
And even in those very imperfect marriages where one spouse fails the other,
if the injured spouse loved as Jesus did
when he died on the cross for his own unfaithful people,
that spouse would not be carrying the cross alone,
but carrying it wrapped in the arms of Jesus himself.
And imagine how this would transform the more mundane things of everyday life.
If we strove to live in perfect charity with co-workers or fellow students,
in perfect integrity with customers, clients, or patients,
in perfect generosity with the poor and suffering.
And imagine how this would transform our basic attitude to society at large.
For example, this week many of us have the opportunity to vote.
Again, we don’t live in a perfect world,
but we don’t have to promote that imperfection.
Why settle for compromise, surrender and despair,
when we can strive, with the grace of Christ, for integrity, justice and hope?
Why be sinners when we could be saints—even in the voting booth?
After all, the election this Tuesday will directly affect how our county and state
deal with marriage, family and sexuality,
not to mention abortion, freedom of conscience, religious liberty,
and the right of parents to teach their children as they see fit.
Why would we vote to support a culture that follows the teachings and example
of Hollywood and Planned Parenthood more than Christ and His Church?
A culture of despair, over a culture of hope?
We are not perfect, but we must strive always to become perfect.
Of course we’ll probably fail over and over again.
But the thing is Jesus is perfect, in mercy and love, in forgiveness and power.
And if we keep striving, committing ourselves to do our very best
and to cooperate with Christ’s grace,
especially as it flows from the Eucharist and Confession
and the other sacraments,
we can, little by little, move forward.
And this doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy life, or the good things of life.
No, striving for perfection, or holiness, simply means
trying, more and more, day by day, step by step,
to enjoy life as it should be enjoyed, in the fullness of its goodness,
by being the very best person you can be,
in the eyes of God,
who created and redeemed you and the world we live in.
My friends, in few moments,
our Lord Jesus will descend from heaven to this altar,
truly present in the Eucharist.
But he will not come alone: All the Saints of heaven will be with him.
Right after that happens, just a few moments later,
I will pray a very beautiful prayer I want you to focus on,
“who, though sinners, hope in your abundant mercies,”
[may be] grant[ed] some share and fellowship
with your holy Apostles and Martyrs….and all your Saints;
admit us, we beseech you, into their company…”
My friends, let us pray that the grace of this sacrament
may renew our hope in Christ and his teachings,
and strengthen us to strive, at every moment, to be perfect,
as He created and calls us to be.
That we sinners may be transformed to join the company of all the Saints,
in praising, loving and serving Him and one another with heavenly perfection,
in this life and in the life to come.
Or as a little child once told me so simply: “let’s be saints!”