Is your goal to be a saint?
As promised here’s my homily from this past weekend on the Feast of All Saints. As always, I do not use a text during the actual delivery of the homily. With several Masses in a weekend, there’s always some variation, but this text is certainly representative if not a 100% verbatim of what I said at any given Mass.
Who are your heroes? Who are the people you look up to in your life? Who do you admire? There are so many people that we look up, that we consider our heroes. They come from so many different places. We have our favorite athletes, musicians, artists, actors and actresses. Then are various political and business leaders both from history and the past. We also have many fictional characters from books, movies and tales that we consider heroes. If they are from comics, then we even call them superheroes. I imagine many of our young people here dressed up as some of these figures last night for Halloween.
Yet, we don’t all wear the same costume every year. If nothing else, they won’t fit anymore after a few years. Beyond that, our interests change, we grow up. The music we listen to at one age is not what we are listening to 10 years later. We no longer care about our favorite superheroes. We read new books, learn more. Our favorite players get traded away and retire. I know after my sister’s favorite players got traded from the Cardinals I gave her a list of who could and couldn’t be her favorite player, lest they be traded too. For various reasons, these heroes don’t endure, they don’t last for ever.
Last week I was talking with a young mother and somehow Elvis came up in conversation. Her daughter asked, “Who’s Elvis?” Then we said, “A famous singer from a long time ago.” She replied, “Oh so like the 80’s?” See folks, even the great Elvis doesn’t endure!
This phenomenon has been true throughout history. In 1521 the great St. Ignatius of Loyola was a young soldier when he was injured in the battle of Pamplona. He was forced to stay in bed for months as he recovered. He didn’t have Netflix, so he couldn’t binge watch his favorite TV shows. Instead he read books. So he read all the tales of Knights and Ladies, Wars, Kings, Queens etc. Then finally once he had finished all of those, he began reading a book on the lives of the Saints. What he found was that when he read their stories, they left a burning feeling in his heart which endured. The stories of knights would pass, but the saints endured. So it should be for us as well.
Today the Church celebrates the Feast of All Saints. We remember not just the saints whose names we know, who get their own feast day, today we remember ALL the saints in heaven. They remind us that we are all called to be saints. Not only is it a call, it should be our goal. Yes we set goals in life like wanting a good job, family etc. But do we have the goal of being a saint? It should be the first and foremost goal of our lives. St. John Paul II and Vatican II both talked about a “universal call to holiness.” This means we are all called to be saints.
But what does being a saint look like? How does one become a saint? St. Francis de Sales writes that this does not just mean praying in the Church several times a day. He says to a mother who is busy raising children, “that is your path to holiness!” “That’s how you’ll become a saint! Through loving your children and being a good mother! That’s how!”
How do we know the right way for us to become a saint? How do we go about realizing our goal of being a saint? I could stay here for hours talking about many different ideas, but for today, I’ll stick with just two words.
The first is discernment.
When we hear this word in the Church, we often associate it with young men and women who are considering a call to the priesthood or religious life. We turn it into a noun and say, “oh I hear she’s a discerner, or he’s a discerner,” as if it’s some sort of dirty word. Just because I was ordained a priest 4 month’s ago does not mean I’m done discerning. To discern is to include God in our decision making process, in this sense we are all meant to discern, and we never stop our entire lives. We tell children to think before they speak and act, but what about praying before we act? What about including God in those decisions.
This week the Church holds national vocations awareness week. To the young people here, I simply encourage you to consider a vocation to the priesthood and religious life. Another rule we teach children is to look both ways before you cross the street. So this must be true for discernment as well, that is to consider all the signs around you, to include God in our decisions, before we step out into the street. In a particular way with vocations, do we only look the way of marriage, just assuming that’s for us? Or do we at least look the other way and consider a vocation to the priesthood or religious life? It doesn’t hurt to look! In fact if you do, maybe you’ll find that’s the way for you. If you don’t look then you might miss something. So we must begin by including God in the little decisions of our everyday lives so that we can make the big decision about being married, a priest or religious.
However, it’s not enough to just say we will discern if we want to be saints. We also need fidelity. We need to be faithful. That is to say, God, I’m going to include you in my decisions, but I’m going to make mistakes. However, I’m not going to let those mistakes turn me away from you. I’m going to keep you trying, I’ll never give up. Sometimes we get this idea that the saints were somehow perfect in their lives. No! They were sinners too, they sat in the pews or celebrated Mass just like you and me. But they were faithful, and they always kept trying to be saints.
While our heroes may come and go, the example of the saints endures for us as a reminder that we too are called to be saints. If we discern more, include God in the decisions of our lives, and remain faithful to him, despite our failings, then we can strive to realize our goal, our goal to become a saint.