Gospel reflection for Nov. 1, 2020 -- The Solemnity of All Saints
Father Koch: We remember today the saints we knew in our lives
There are saints and then there are saints. Although the exact number of recognized saints is uncertain – perhaps somewhere around 10,000 – it is not those saints who are the focus of the Mass on this holy day. Today we remember those ordinary, everyday faithful members of the Body of Christ, who share in the heavenly banquet, but whose names will never be called upon for the intercession of the Church.
The Gospel today draws our focus to the great Beatitudes as recorded by St. Matthew. The very basic virtues that all Christians are called to develop in our lives are clearly outlined in these Beatitudes. When we think of the great saints we can see these virtues manifest in their lives. Yes, many of them, as with many of us, had to grow in those virtues. Some of them experienced dramatic calls to conversion in life, such as Augustine, Francis of Assisi and Ignatius of Loyola. We think of the great martyrs of every age and generation: the apostles, Polycarp, Thomas More and Oscar Romero as examples of martyrdom. We think of the long-suffering faithful saints, Marguerite Bourgeoys, Martin de Porres, and Rita of Cascia. We might also remember the great missionary saints such as Francis Xavier, Maryanne Cope and Frances Cabrini. Some saints founded great religious communities such as Benedict, Bernard of Clairvaux and Dominic. Others are known for their work among the poor and suffering like Vincent de Paul, Teresa of Kolkata and Damian of Molokai. The Church has also known great religious mystics like John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila and Pio of Pietrelcina.
It is not those saints that we are called to honor today, but rather those who followed after them, those who through the ordinariness of their lives lived a heroic faith yet who will never be called upon in a Great Litany or have their banner hung in St. Peter’s Square. Today we reflect on the lives of those who touched us and inspired faith in us, our parents and grandparents, perhaps the religious brother or sister who may or may not have been a good teacher but was indeed a humble and faithful servant. We remember the many hundreds of thousands of people who have suffered indignity and persecution for their faith and yet never wavered from the path of faith-filled discipleship.
The hope and desire of every Christian should be first and foremost to become a saint. It might sound quaint, and we do not always know what it might mean, yet it is what we are called to. During the ritual of Baptism, as the neophyte is clothed in the white garment, the celebrant says: “You have become a new creation and have clothed yourself in Christ. May this white garment be a sign of your Christian dignity. With your family and friends to help you by word and example, bring it unstained into eternal life.”
In this simple ritual we learn so much about the life of faith and our membership in the Body of Christ, the Church. We see that we are responsible as the baptized to live lives of faithful examples of discipleship not just for ourselves, but for others. Our path to eternal life, to salvation in Christ, is not a singular one. This journey happens within a community of believers. We walk together. We walk hand-in-hand to heaven. Sometimes we might be kicking and screaming along the way, but heaven is the goal. This is a fundamental reason for the Sacrament of Matrimony as well. As a sign of the New Covenant, marriage orients a man and a woman to lead each other, and their children, along the path of faith to heaven.
By focusing on the Beatitudes and learning the fundamental values and virtues that lie underneath each of them, we can discipline ourselves to become saints. Sanctity of life is not easy. We are reminded that not all become saints. Some choose through their own free will a different path, a path that leads not to eternal life but to eternal death. While we might reflect on our fear of loss of salvation, if we keep our eyes affixed on heaven, then living the virtues of discipleship will become more deeply a part of our lives.
So many wonderful saints have touched our lives and today we thank God for their faithfulness and inspiration, and we sing their praises among the Communion of Saints in the Kingdom of God, and we pray that we might one day join them in the heavenly choirs.
Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.