Today is the Feast Day of St Francis Xavier, a Jesuit priest. Throughout the year we commemorate the feast days of so many saints. Who are they, really? Fr Gerald shares something about saints… and about ourselves.
Saints teach us that holiness comes in all sizes and shapes. The saints are rich and poor, young and old, warriors and peacemakers, hermits and organizers of charities, parents and celibates, scholars and those who couldn’t read, every era has its saints as does ours. The struggles may change; the heroes are still among us.
It is part of our Catholic teaching that all of us are called to be saints. Yet, most of us don’t take this message seriously. After all, saints are very special people, and we can never be like them. Honestly, if we can just make it into heaven by the back door, we will be satisfied.
Each and every one of us has received the call to holiness at baptism, and it is the task of each and every one of us to respond to that call with all our hearts. We were given the gift of the Holy Spirit and the fact that we have the Spirit means that no limit may be set to how far it is possible for us to go in responding to God’s call.
Many people have a false idea of what a saint is. For them saints are people who never committed a sin in all their lives. People who were always shining with virtue – strong-willed, humble, pure, who never lost their patience, and who never thought of themselves but always of God and others. But this is a fallacy. It implies that the saints were saints from the cradle onwards. In other words, that saints were born saints. But the saints were not born saints, they became saints. They underwent a conversion – a change of heart which resulted in a change of life. This change did not happen overnight, but it was the result of a long and painful struggle.
The change of heart that we call conversion (which every saint underwent) is very clearly seen in the lives of some of the greatest names in the Church’s register of saints: Francis of Assisi, Augustine of Hippo, Paul of Tarsus. Each of these at a certain time in their lives heard the words of Jesus: “Repent and believe the Good News.”
That is why the lives of the saints, the “little” ones as well as the “great” ones, are such a challenge to us. We cannot read about them without experiencing a great call to conversion – a call to rethink our basic attitudes to life, to redefine our goals, to confront our sinfulness, and to throw ourselves open to God’s love and mercy. After reading the lives of the saints we see what we could be if we are willing to take the risk of total surrender to the love of God.
To become a saint is to become real. It means that the real me, which is often hidden under layers of foolishness, finally emerges. All the hidden goodness and beauty that God has placed within me comes out. And it all starts with the realization that God loves me as I am. The saints were people who believed the Good News of God’s unconditional love, and who began to return his love, and found their lives changed, not overnight, but through a gradual process of growth which didn’t rule out further falls. In some cases, for example Saint Peter, it took a long time. A lot of corners had to be knocked off before they became real. We all want something for nothing, quickly, and without having to work for it. But it cannot be.
If we work at becoming real, the saints teach us how they discovered a tremendous joy and freedom. There can be no joy for us as long as the things we do are different from the things we believe in. And there is no freedom for us outside the will of God. When we do the will of God things hum sweetly. We become an instrument that is being played properly.
The saints hold up a mirror before us. In this mirror we get a most favourable image of ourselves. We see what we are capable of. All we need is the will to imitate them. Turning to them today, celebrating their lives and deaths, means that we acknowledge the paths they trod, that we are ready to follow them, that we are ready, as they did, to entrust our lives to God, and to the guidance of his Spirit. And we’re ready to do that without counting the cost.
On All Saints Day we celebrate and rejoice in the memory of all the glorious saints of God. Then and always, let us all ask them all for their intercessions, especially from our blessed Mother Mary, and our own respective patron saints. Let us all ask for their continued intercession that God may strengthen us all in our resolve to live faithfully and walk with ever greater commitment on the path that He has set before us. Let us all look ever more carefully on the examples of the saints, holy men and women who have gone before us, and gain inspiration from their good examples, that we may also do the same in our own lives.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all be like the saints in all things, live as they had lived and model our own faith lives like their own. May the Lord, through the intercession of His many saints, help us and strengthen us all to be more courageous and committed to serve Him, and to love Him, becoming ourselves great examples of faith and inspiration to even more people. May God bless us all in all things and in all of our good endeavours and efforts. O Holy saints of God, our inspiration and source of hope, pray for us all, your brothers and sisters still struggling in this world, that we may one day join all of you in the glory of Heaven to praise God together. Amen.
Fr Gerald Biñegas RCJ
Holy Family Parish, Victoria, Australia