November 1, 2019

Christ the Cornerstone

Saints are ordinary people who lived extraordinary lives

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“[Saints] are like us, they are like each of us, they are people who before reaching the glory of heaven lived a normal life, with joys and griefs, struggles and hopes.” (Pope Francis)

Today, Nov. 1, our Church celebrates the Solemnity of All Saints. This is a day when we give thanks to God for the powerful witness to holiness of ordinary women and men who allowed God’s grace to do wondrous things in their lives.

Some of these witnesses are well‑known to us such as our archdiocesan patrons, St. Francis Xavier and St. Mother Theodore Guérin.

But many others are unknown—people who lived quiet, holy lives without drawing attention to themselves. Today we celebrate all saints whether known or unknown. And today we are reminded that the call to holiness is universal, given to each of us at the time of our baptism.

According to Pope Francis, holiness is the manner of living that closely aligns us with God’s will as opposed to the values of the world. “If a Christian wants to reach heaven, he or she should ask themselves if they are living for the pleasures of the world, or if they are striving after holiness with all their strength,” the pope says. “Let us ask ourselves what side we are on: that of heaven or that of the Earth? Do we live for the Lord or for ourselves, for eternal happiness or for some fulfillment now?”

Holiness is the way of life that Jesus lived. Since Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life, we might say that holiness is living in Christ, with Christ and for Christ.

“Let us ask ourselves: do we really want holiness? Or do we content ourselves with being Christians without disgrace and without praise, who believe in God and esteem others but without going too far?” The call to holiness is the opposite of living a mediocre Christian life. “In short, either holiness or nothing!” the pope says.

In his encyclical “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 light of hope, the former pope writes, because they point us to Jesus Christ, “the true light, the sun that has risen above all the shadows of history” (#49).

Saints point us to Jesus Christ by their words and example. The light of hope that they shine in our often dark and shadowy world isn’t always overwhelming. Sometimes the light is just a flicker.

According to the Christophers, a missionary society founded by Maryknoll Father James Keller in 1945, “It is better to light one small candle than to curse the darkness.” The light of Christ, which is reflected in all the saints to one degree or another, illumines every dark corner of our world, and it grows in intensity as individual men and women like us accept our baptismal call to grow in holiness.

How do saints show us the way to live? 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 others struggle and fail?

The answer is closeness to God through prayer. Saints are men and women who know how to pray. They are people who, in times of difficulty as well as in good times, raise their minds and hearts to the Lord. They seek God’s will in their lives. They share with him their hopes and frustrations (and sometimes even their anger). Through their prayer, they strive to be in constant contact with God.

Saints do not always succeed in their intense desire to experience God’s closeness. Sometimes they endure periods when God appears to be absent from their lives, when he seems not to respond to their petitions for humility, patience, purity and the power to do God’s will. In spite of these dry, discouraging periods, the saints do not give up. They persist in praising God and trusting in his mercy.

On this Solemnity of All Saints, let’s thank God for all saints, known and unknown. Let’s pray for the grace to be like them and to be flickers of the light of Christ in our world’s darkness. †

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