Recently I had the opportunity to visit several of my nieces who live in various parts of the West Coast. Each of them have young children – delightful, smart, fun – but children who come complete with all of the parenting demands that are required to raise them into adult people of true character. It was a treasurable experience!
One of the most endearing features of these visits was my deepening admiration for the care and the dedication and the total commitment so evident in these parents. They were demonstrating, each in their distinctive way, their passionate devotion to making their children the central issue of their lives.
In fact, the time and attention and love showered on their children reminded me of my own parents, and of so many other parents and grandparents I’ve met through the years. It always amazes me how selflessly and naturally they gave up their own individual needs and wants so that they could donate their lives to the raising of their children.
They became, in so many ways, people who embraced the profound message of Jesus so powerfully presented to us in today’s gospel: the message that invites us to become people who are “poor in spirit,” “meek,” “merciful,” “peacemakers,” and “those who mourn.”
What parent, for example, doesn’t have to embrace those ideals and make them real in their daily life of child rearing? What parent doesn’t have to fall on their knees from time to time and beg for the patience and the skill to be merciful and a peacemaker? What parent doesn’t have to get past their embarrassment in order to seek every means necessary – teachers, counselors, and friends – to assist them in gathering the strength and the knowledge to make the right judgements and the best decisions? What parent hasn’t had to weep, to embrace mercy and forgive 70 times 7?
But, to me, what is so admirable and so endearing is that they don’t give up. They continue to do the peacemaking and the mourning and the forgiving, and they do it again and again.
They do it, of course, for one major reason: they have fallen in love. And, in doing so, they have traded in their self-love and their self-fulfillment desires so that they can fully donate themselves to the good of those to whom they have given life. They have come to understand, as one writer put it, “that it is love that will make any of us want to do great things for each other.” It is love that helps us all see that “no sacrifice and no suffering will then seem too much.”
Isn’t that what a “saint” is?
Your answer to that question may be that “saints” in the traditional understanding are perfect people. And no parent I know would suggest that they are perfect. Far from it.
But, it’s important to remember that even the great saints – Francis of Assisi, Therese of Lisieux, and Mother Theresa, to name just a few – were imperfect people. They were people who were depressed and anxious and selfish at times; they were narrow and spiteful and prejudiced at times; they were even mean and petulant and difficult to live with at times. But, all of them became canonized by the Church because they demonstrated a consistent and obvious love for God and for their neighbor – so much so that they were seen by many as to be especially noted due to their spiritual gifts.
You and I may not be in that category, but that does not exclude us from being people who are ultimately dedicated – regardless of our failures – to fulfilling the gospel invitation of being merciful, clean of heart, peacemakers, and among those who “hunger and thirst for righteousness.”
In this sense we’re not just ordinary people living ordinary lives. We’re extra-ordinary in that we keep trying, in the midst of consistent failures, to be creators of peace, to be forgiving, to be kind, to be cherishing, and to be dedicated to the furtherance of justice and charity – however imperfectly we do it.
That’s why I believe that the most important single word in the acknowledgement of today’s feast is the word “all.” This is the feast of “all” saints, not just the great ones, the canonized ones, the specially remembered ones.
This is a day that treasures all of those who keep trying, many times in the midst of great hardship.
This is a day that remembers all of those people who don’t get much attention, but in their “little” lives keep up the vigil of faith and hope and charity.
This is a day that honors those who keep persisting in the midst of terrible suffering, who keep trusting in the midst of anguished heartache, who keep loving in the midst of painful betrayal, who keep making peace in the midst of the enticing temptation for revenge, who keep hungering for justice in the midst of the ravenous desire for self-idolatry.
This is a day that celebrates “all” saints – as the Book of Revelation puts it so powerfully in today’s first reading: “the great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue.”
Happy feast day!