In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
When I was in junior high—for those of you who are young, that would be middle school today—my mother was working on a master’s in reading at a small women’s Roman Catholic college. While she was working on her degree, she had classes at night, and the sisters would allow my sister and me to come to the library and roam through the library’s stacks. For me wandering through rows and rows of books was almost magical. Eventually, I found a cozy little study carrel nestled in row after row books devoted to the lives of saints. Oh, how I loved to read those books about saints!
Now probably because it was a women’s college, the books on saints were heavily oriented toward the female. So I got to read lots and lots of books about women saints. Interestingly enough, many of them were young girls and they were people that I so wanted to be like. Many of the stories began by telling of how sweet, good and pure these girls were. Many of them came from the nobility or royalty and it was easy to imagine that they lead wonderful lives. But, inevitably, something bad would happen in their lives and they were tested. Yet, because of their faith, they would stand up for Jesus and for the God they loved, and they would allow all sorts of things to happen to them in the name of their faith. As a 12-year-old, I thought that was just something miraculous and something that I should strive for: to be perfect just like these saints.
One thing that escaped my adolescent understanding was that all of these people had to die on order to become saints. In church parlance, when someone is made a saint, they are canonized. This past week, on All Hallows’ Eve, the night before All Saints’ Day I was privileged to be one of four people installed as canons here at the Cathedral. Untold numbers of people came up to me and said, “Congratulations on your canonization.” Each time, I was tempted to respond, “Thanks, but you have to be dead, and I think I have a little living to do.” I’ve been thinking a lot about that. Do you have to be dead to be a saint? I would argue that that is not the case. All Saints Day is a time that allows us to think about those people in our lives, our community, and the world who have been exemplary. It is true that many of them have already gone back to glory. But there are so many who are still alive and still working and they are saints for all of us.
The thing that is most fascinating to me is the realization that every single one of us is called to be a saint. How many of you feel called to be a saint? Come on, somebody’s got to. We’re all called to be saints. And in today’s gospel lesson, I think Jesus tried to help us understand, granted, in a slightly obtuse way, that it doesn’t matter what condition we are in currently, we still always can live in hope that we will come to understand and share God’s love.
In today’s lesson we have the Beatitudes, those verses that say, Blessed are you who are hungry, who are poor, or who weep. As we listen to those words, they sound odd: How can those who are poor or weep or is hungry be blessed? Yet Jesus says they are, indeed, blessed. He says that they always can live in the hope of something better. There’s always the hope that they will not remain where they are.
We also have the other part that talks about the people whom most of us would want to be like: the rich. I wouldn’t mind being rich. Those who are full, those who are filled with laughter, and those whom people say wonderful things about—those people that most of us want to emulate. But what does Jesus do? He takes this and turns it around and says, Woe to you! I would argue that Jesus says woe to them because what he is trying to help them understand is that they, too, have more to do. Is not enough to sit in your wealth. It’s not enough to rest at ease with a full stomach. It’s not enough to bask in the glory of the good words of others. There is so very much more that we all have to do.
I imagine for each of us there are times when we are recipients of those Beatitudes, those times when we feel like there’s nothing we can be blessed for, but we are, and times when we feel like we have the world conquered and we have no need of anything more. But all of us can be bigger than that. All of us are called to work for a world that is bigger than where we are ourselves.
Today we are about to baptize three new Christians. Before they are baptized, we will all stand and we will renew our baptismal vows. We will make the promises for ourselves that many had made for them by their parents and loved ones. When we renew those baptismal vows, part of what we are doing is remembering that we are called to something greater. We are called to sainthood.
If you don’t think that you are, I want you to take a pause and rethink. Even if you don’t believe that you are call to sainthood for yourself, remember that you are called to that for this gathered community and for the greater community. Saints are people who are examples; we are all called to be examples of God’s love. We are bringing new people into this community, and as we bring them in, we have to be the exemplars for them. We have to show them how they, too, are saints of God and how they are called to go out into the world to show God’s hope to those who may not feel it. And how they are called to go out into the world and remind those who are resting on their laurels that as long as there is anyone who is hungry or hurting or scared, there’s work to be done, work that each and every one of us can do.
So today, as we commemorate All Saints Day, remember the people who were saints for you, who showed you a better way to live. And remember that you, too, are called to be one of God’s saints for the other people who live in this world. Amen.