Here is the catechetical witness I'm doing for Butler's All Saints Day Mass tonight.
All Saints Day Witness
When I was a kid, around the age of ten, my dad started getting sick. We spent at least one night a month in the emergency room, if not more often. I became a pro at dressing in the middle of the night and grabbing my backpack, which was always stocked with books to read in the waiting room. What I never became a pro at was dealing with the idea that my Dad, who was my hero and my best friend, might die. Scared, I would sit in the back of the car, close my eyes, and imagine a lady, wearing a nun’s habit and a big smile, comforting me. That lady, my companion for most of my childhood even into my adult life, was St. Frances Xavier Cabrini.
I think that in our day and age, where it is difficult to connect even with the person right next to you, it becomes difficult to understand the idea of Saints. Yet, as Catholics, the veneration of Saints is an important part of our faith. Technically speaking, a Saint is any person who has died and is in heaven. This means that my grandfather might be a saint just like Mother Cabrini or St. Francis. Those who were not formally canonized are saints with a lowercase “s.” Those who have been canonized by the Church are saints with a capital “S.” Although we probably won’t all be canonized, we are all called to be saints. This of course poses the question of how to become a saint.
St. Mother Theodore Guerin, who did most of her ministry in Terre Haute, IN, said that what we must do in order to become saints is “Nothing extraordinary, nothing more than we do every day. Only do it for the love of God.” What does it look like to do all we do every day for the love of God? I know I don’t succeed in this. When I face a challenging situation, I rarely act for the love of God. In fact, I’m not sure that love could even be found in me during some of those moments. It’s so easy to say the word “love” and so hard to really live it. In our world, we don’t have many examples of how to live this call to love.
The Saints offer us examples of how to live that love and how to endure the trials and pains of this world. Sometimes when I think of Saints, it’s all too easy to think of perfect people who must have walked with God their whole lives. While young women like Saint Maria Goretti, who was martyred at the age of 11 protecting her purity, are most certainly holy, they’re not all that inspirational to someone like me who makes mistakes right and left. Maria was probably holier at the age of 11 than I will ever be. Fortunately for us, not all of our Saints have such holy biographies. When I read about St. Augustine, well known as a wild party boy who made every mistake in the book before coming to Christ or St. Peter, who walked beside Christ during his entire ministry and was a witness to his miracles yet still questioned Christ, resisted him, and even denied him… well, they might actually be able to understand me and teach me something.
Even more important than using Saints as an example or praying to them (which really means asking them to intercede for us to the Father), is the practice that I had as a little girl, sitting in the back of my parents’ car on the way to the emergency room—allowing the Saints to be our companions through life. By inviting them into our lives as our companions, we allow them to share in our life, and by reading about their lives and the many trials and struggles they faced, we share in theirs. In the same way that we imitate the actions of our friends and family, by walking beside Saints we learn to live like them. Saints teach us to love Jesus just as they did and to serve others first and then worry about ourselves later. We see this in so many Saints: from St. Francis of Assisi to Blessed Mother Teresa. My own patron saint, Mother Cabrini, founded several hospitals and schools, including the one where she healed and befriended my great grandmother. Saints are men and women of action, men and women of service, and quite often men and women of courage. There are many who took a stand against injustice no matter the consequences, like Blessed Maria Restituta Kafka, who was martyred for speaking out against the Nazis or St. Maximilian Kolbe, who took the place of a man who was sentenced to starve in a concentration camp. As a community that is so focused on social justice, I think that these Saints must surely have a special meaning to the Butler Community, yet in addition to their service, Saints show us that even in the midst of a busy life, we must find time for prayer. There is a story about Blessed John Paul II that one time there was a crisis he had to attend to, so someone tried to interrupt him in prayer. Finally, after about the third or fourth time of attempting to get him to leave the chapel, saying, “Father, you really must do something about this,” JPII turned to the man and said, “I already am” and then continued to pray.
The saints we recognize today were men and women of action, but also men and women of prayer. It was the prayer that they lived daily that allowed them to be great ministers and missionaries that changed the world. Maximilian Kolbe’s story is moving not only because of his willingness to take the place of another, but also because up until he died, the guards could hear him praying and singing praise to the Lord while he was starving. It was not only the holy work that she did on the streets of Calcutta that attracted hundreds to join Mother Teresa, it was the beautiful spirit with which she did it, a spirit rooted in Christ.
For us, I think that as we celebrate All Saints’ Day, we should take a look at the lives of those saints whose lives speak to us the most and consider what attracts us to them. What can we take from their life that will enrich our own? And, how can we invite them to share in our lives? We might not all be able or willing to give up every material possession and live on the streets like a modern St. Francis, but surely we can all learn to love and to serve better. This is what the Saints desire to help us to do and in doing so, to bring us closer to Christ. Some mistake our practice of venerating Saints for worship of saints as though they were God, but this is not the case. We venerate Saints because they are men and women who loved God with all their being and so are able to bring us closer to Him. How can they bring you closer to Him today?