Today we celebrate the Feast of All Saints, a day set aside by Pope Gregory IV back in the year 835 to be celebrated on November 1st to honor the memory of countless unknown and uncanonized saints similar to our honoring the unknown soldiers who have died for our country.
So just who is a saint? The definition of a saint is a person who is extremely virtuous, a person who pleases God in what they do and what they say. Usually when we think of a saint we think of a person who is dead however, to meet that definition that really isn’t necessary. Today’s feast can be for both those living and dead. On that basis, who in your life do you believe are saints? I believe I know or have known many, some of whom are here is this church with us today. Looking at a few people who have lived during my lifetime who I would define as a saint while they were living would include Pope John XXIII who was canonized in 2014, Mother Theresa who scheduled to be canonized in 2016, Solanus Casey who is on his way to be canonized in the near future and Phil Simpson. Phil isn’t Catholic but he is an extremely virtuous engineer I had the privilege of working with some years back in Charlotte, North Carolina. Who do you think we should add to the list?
God calls you and me to be saints every day of our lives. It was always fun in my days as a director of religious education and catechist to ask the students if they wanted to be saints. Many would say no in that they didn’t feel it would be any fun. Then I would remind them that unless we don’t become saints we are destined to spend eternity in Hell. What would your answer be to that question? Do you want to be a saint? Maybe a better question would be, “Do you want to be happy in this life and after we are called home to God?” I can’t believe that any right-thinking person would every say no to that question. Some might say something like, “I don’t know what heaven is like so I am going to have as much fun in this life as I can.” Maybe they would add that they didn’t want to die to be happy and living the commandments and beatitudes doesn’t seem to be a way to be happy here on earth and it’s fun to break a commandment or two every so often.
It may seem that way but for sure that happiness isn’t long lasting. Jesus’ message in today’s Gospel provides us with the formula for true long-lived happiness here on earth and eternal happiness after God calls us home.
Jesus’ message in today’s Gospel gives us the Beatitudes which are his definition of the Commandments given in positive terms. Of course, the translation we have of the Beatitudes in today’ Gospel might not be seen to be 8 things to follow which would provide true long-lasting happiness. Just the word “Blessed” can make a person think of someone who is kind of holy, holy, holy, and who is happy to mourn? God doesn’t call us to be holy, holy, holy or someone who is happy to do something distasteful but rather wants us to be happy doing his will here on earth and ultimately happy when he calls us home.
A shorter more positive and I believe a more valid translation of Jesus’ message in the Beatitudes is contained in “The Handbook for Today’s Catholic” which reads: Happy are those who need God.
Happy are those with self-control.
Happy are those who are sorry for sin.
Happy are those who hunger and thirst for holiness.
Happy are the compassionate.
Happy are those who live with all their heart.
Happy are the peacemakers.
Happy are those who suffer for doing what is right.
Looking at Pope John XXIII, Mother Theresa, Solanus Casey and Phil Simpson, we know that their lives here on earth were not always easy and they didn’t know what was ahead for them here on earth but it is valid to conclude that they were happy in this life because they spent their lives doing their best to live the spirit of the Commandments and the spirit of the Beatitudes, that is, doing their best to accept the gift of eternal happiness which God offers to each one of us.
Returning to the question, “Do you want to be a saint?” or the better question, “Do you want to be truly happy?”. Jesus gives us the formula for being truly happy here and hereafter. Can a person be unhappy if one “loves with all their heart” as the Beatitudes essentially call us to do?