October 31, 2014

Rejoice in the Lord

As holy men and holy women, we are all called to be saints

Archbishop Joseph W. TobinDuring the first two days of November, the Church calls our attention to what the Second Vatican Council termed “the universal call to holiness.” We Catholics believe that every human being is made in the image and likeness of God, and all of us—no matter who we are or what our personal history may be—are called to be holy.

What does it mean to be holy? According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “the desire for God is written in the human heart” (#27). We human beings are meant to search for God, to find him and to become united with him—both here on Earth and in our heavenly home.

Holiness is the quality of our union with God, the indication of our closeness to him. Holy women and men are close to God. That’s why we call them “saints,” which comes from the Latin word sanctus or holy.

In his encyclical “Spe Salvi” (“Saved by Hope”), Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI writes: “Life is a voyage on the sea of history, often dark and stormy, a voyage in which we watch for the stars that indicate the route. The true stars of our life are the people who have lived good lives.” They are the lights of hope, the Holy Father writes, because they point us to Jesus Christ, “the true light, the sun that has risen above all the shadows of history” (#49).

Saints shine with the light of Christ. Many of the saints have been officially recognized by the Church through a process that results in the solemn proclamation (canonization) that they practiced heroic virtue and lived in fidelity to God’s grace.

But during the last 2,000 years, many other holy women and men have given themselves wholeheartedly to Jesus Christ without being declared saints by the Church. These are the saints we celebrate on Nov. 1, the Solemnity of All Saints.

All of us are called to holiness, to closeness to God, but unfortunately most of us find ourselves further away from God than we would like to be. That’s why Christ gives us the sacraments—especially the Eucharist and the sacrament of penance—to help us in our daily struggles on the way to holiness. We are all called to be close to God, but for many of us (most of us?) the journey is a long and difficult one.

Thanks be to God, his grace and mercy are endless. Our loving and merciful God never gives up on us. Even after we die, we Christians believe that it is still possible to atone for our sins, to grow in holiness and come closer to God. That’s why we pray for those who have died.

It’s also why the Church celebrates the feast of All Souls on Nov. 2. We are all called to become holy—both the living and the dead—and the grace of our Lord Jesus is not confined to this world, but can reach even into the state of being we call purgatory, to touch the hearts of those “poor souls” who must undergo a process of purification before being fully united with God.

In our desire to be united with God, we look to the saints to show us the way. How do saints model for us the way to be close to God?

Obviously, through the witness of their daily lives, the choices they make, their willingness to sacrifice for the sake of others, and their devotion to Christ. Their words and examples are helpful guides to daily Christian living.

But what is the secret of their success in navigating the dark and stormy seas of life? Why are the saints successful at living good and holy lives when so many of us struggle and fail?

The answer, I believe, is prayer. Saints are men and women who know how to pray, to be close to God and communicate with him from the heart. They are people who in times of difficulty, as well as in good times, raise their minds and hearts to the Lord. The saints seek God’s will in their lives. They share with him their hopes and frustrations (and sometimes even their loneliness, anger and fear). Through their prayer, their attentive listening even more than the words they speak, the holy men and women we call saints are in constant contact with God.

As we recall the holy people—living and deceased—who serve as stars guiding us to Christ, let’s pray for the grace to let God’s love and mercy touch our hearts and bring us closer to him who is our true heart’s desire. †

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