Saint of saints

The_Head_of_Christ_by_Warner_Sallman_1941

Do we count Jesus among the saints?

Hmmm…

On the one hand: No. Because He is God. God is not a saint; God makes saints. The saints are human beings filled with the holiness of God. Ergo, Lord Jesus, eternal God, does not count as a “saint.”

On the other hand: A saint = a “holy one.” Jesus is the holiest holy one. Everything about Him qua human being courses with holiness. He rules heaven as the human King, the Saint of saints. From His human body and soul flows all the heavenly grace that makes saints saints.

I bring this up to highlight the following:

The triune God is heaven, has always “inhabited” heaven. The eternal Son has dwelt with the Father in approachable light from all eternity.

But He took our human nature to Himself, in time. He lived among us, as a man on earth, not for the fun of it, but to benefit us. He has shown us the meaning of life, and has made the fulfillment of that meaning possible for us. The meaning of life is simple: to reach heaven.

In other words, the meaning of life is not to leave a venerable legacy. It is not to go down in history as some kind of phenom. It is not to pile up trophies or pleasures.

Jesus lived on earth as the Saint of saints. But He also became a saint—by reaching heaven as a man. He fulfilled the union of God and man in Himself, by doing the will of the Father to the end of His pilgrimage. And thereby inheriting heaven.

tabernacle

The Holy Mass expresses all of this. Every Mass.

The way that we pray at the altar makes this clear: The Trinity is our God. We pray in Jesus our High Priest, the first of the saints in heaven. The Mass demonstrates that we Christians understand life in one way. Namely, that we want what Jesus has–and what all the saints in heaven have. Our desire, our goal, the meaning of our lives: to find ourselves among the saints of Jesus Christ.

What do Jesus and the saints have? We don’t kid ourselves imagining that we know the answer to that question. What they have is God. They have the one and only “thing” that can make a human being truly happy.

We do not “know” what Jesus and saints have; for now, we simply believe. And we pray at the holy altar, with all our hearts, that someday, we will find out.

Friends with Saints

john paul ii mother teresa

Age can catch up with a guy. The good Lord gives us plenty of reminders. Like the gray hair. The sore back. The diminishing powers of memory.

But how about when you celebrate the feastdays of saints that you met in person–back when you were young? Like Pope St. John Paul II. Or St. Mother Teresa. The good Lord blessed me with the opportunity to meet both of them, back before I had gray hair, and those two saints still walked the earth.

Not everyone gets opportunities like that. Being a seminarian gives you some special chances. But all of us have the opportunity to get to know particular saints. We can visit the places they lived. Or we can read about them. Or, if they themselves wrote, we can read their own writings.

st_therese_of_lisieuxSt. Therese of Lisieux died in 1897–way before I was born. (I’m not that old.) But I feel like I know her well, because I have read her Story of a Soul. Everyone who has read that book feels personally close to St. Therese, because she wrote so honestly and humbly and clearly.

St. Junipero Serra died in California even way before St. Therese was born, way before any of our great-great-great-great-grandparents were born. But I feel like I know St. Junipero well, too, because I had the chance to visit the missions he founded, from San Diego to San Francisco. I walked where the saint walked, and I saw the land and the sky from the same point-of-view as he saw them. Also: I got to concelebrate his canonization Mass with Pope Francis.

My point here is: Getting to know a saint or two—getting to know them personally, so to speak, is something we can all do. And when we do that, we discover that the saints always had a saint or two that they knew personally, to whom they prayed every day. St. Junipero was friends with St. Francis, even though St. Francis died centuries before Junipero was born. St. Therese was friends with St. Theresa of Avila, even though St. Theresa died centuries before St. Therese was born. Part of becoming a saint is to have a saint or two among your best friends, the people you talk to the most.

Reading really helps in this area. I love to read, so I have made friends with a couple saints who wrote a lot, especially St. Thomas Aquinas. That’s just me; we all have our particular interests, which means we will have affinities for particular some saints, and not others. The important thing is for each of us to find an interesting saint.

Or, let the saint find me somehow. A lot of times we stumble across a favorite saint, just by visiting a new church, or looking into things like: Whose feast day is my birthday? Or my wedding anniversary? Or such-and-such other day that is significant in my life.

So let’s all find a saint or two for close friends, if we haven’t already.

Of course, we all have the Blessed Mother for a close friend, of course. All the saints have loved the Blessed Mother best. That’s the way it should be. That is, all the saints have loved her the best, except she herself. She simply loves others with everything she has.

 

The Silence of the Saints

All Saints Fra Angelico

St. John received a vision of heaven.  As we hear in our first reading at Holy Mass today, one of the elders in the vision asked St. John to speak about the heavenly scene.  But he wouldn’t.  Instead, John confessed that he did not know.

As St. John had written in one of his letters, “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed” (emphasis added).  As we sing in our psalm for today’s Solemnity, “Who can ascend the mountain of the Lord?”

The Catechism puts it like this (1026-27):

Heaven is the blessed community of all who are perfectly incorporated into Christ.  This mystery of blessed communion with God and with all the saints is beyond all understanding and description.  [emphasis added] ‘No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor has the heart of man conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him.’ (I Corinthians 2:9)

The qualities outlined in the Beatitudes—poor in spirit, mournful about the sin of the world, meek, merciful, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, peaceful, and clean of heart… If we try to synthesize our idea of these qualities in a human personality, I think we could add one more:  Quiet.  Not loud.

We can safely say: when we try to put the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount into practice, we wind up speaking less.  We speak a great deal less than we would if we had never heard of Jesus Christ.

As we cultivate this quieter life, we can listen for the great, secret silence of heaven.  Yes, we know from reading Scripture that hymns of transcendent harmony resound up there, like rushing rivers.  But, from here, the music of heaven sounds like…silence.

That silence of the saints contains the great secret.  This unutterable secret lies at the very center of Christianity.  Anything and everything that we know—pumpkin pies, autumn-leaf-covered mountainsides, warm fireplaces, kisses from your honey—all these things, good and sweet as they are, are less good than heaven.  Heavenly goodness shines in the distance, the secret that defies all description and utterly exceeds the conception of man.

May we hold that secret in our Christian hearts by faith.  The secret of the saints is the goodness we strive for.  That secret makes life worth living.

All Saints’ Trick or Treat

Let’s see who knows their patron saints. Who is the patron saint of…

All of the Americas? Our Lady! Of Guadalupe.

How about the patron of shepherds? St. Bernadette. Engineers? St. Patrick. Florists, aviators, and missionaries? St. Therese. Funeral directors? St. Joseph of Arimathea. Accountants, bankers, customs agents, and security guards? St. Matthew. Bricklayers, cabinetmakers, deacons, and altar servers? St. Stephen. What about the patron saint of grooms? St. Nicholas. And, guess what? he’s also the patron saint of brewers and lawyers in Paris, not to mention pawnbrokers.

How about the patron saint of environmentalists? St. Kateri Tekawitha. Surgeons and barbers? St. Cosmas. How about dentists? St. Apollonia. Doctors, artists, and notaries? St. Luke. And lawyers everywhere except Paris? St. Thomas More. What if you have an earache? Pray to St. Polycarp. Or if you can’t see? St. Lucy. Stomach problems? St. Timothy.

Who’s the patron saint of all Catholic schools? St. Thomas Aquinas. And the patron saint of teachers? St. Gregory the Great. Teenagers? St. Maria Goretti. (And she’s also the patron saint of grandparents.)

St. Vitus
St. Vitus
Who’s the patron saint of priests? St. John Vianney. How about soldiers, paramedics, and paratroopers? St. Michael the Archangel. How about of popes, bakers, butchers, blacksmiths, and cloth makers? St. Peter. And his brother–the patron of fisherman, fish markets, and one of our beloved Roanoke parishes? St. Andrew.

How about the patron saints of babies? The Holy Innocents. And the patron saint of your savings account? St. Anthony Claret. Waiters and waitresses? St. Martha!

Ok. How about the patroness of immigrants and hospital administrators? St. Frances Xavier Cabrini. What about immigrants from Mexico? San Toribio! Lighthouse keepers? St. Dunstan. Athletes? St. Sebastian. Pyrotechnicians, chimney sweeps, and women in labor? St. Elmo. Diplomats, mailmen, 9-1-1 call centers, and radio and tv personalities? St. Gabriel the Archangel. Architects? St. Thomas the Apostle. Beekeepers? St. Ambrose. Difficult marriages? St. Rita of Cascia.

How about the patron saint of dancers and comedians? St. Vitus. Police officers and impossible causes? St. Jude. Anesthesiologists? St. Rene Goupil. The patron saint of bad students? St. Joseph of Cupertino. Equestrians, homemakers, and sailors? St. Ann. Domestic animals and grave-digging? St. Anthony. Fire prevention? St. Catharine of Siena. Hairdressers? St. Martin de Porres. What if you’re going on retreat? St. Ignatius Loyola.

How about poets? King David. Skiers? St. Bernard. Throats? St. Blase. Journalists and writers? St. Francis de Sales. Boy Scouts? St. George. Carpenters? St. Joseph, of course! How about the patron saint of computers? St. Isidore of Seville.

Last for now, but not least, another patron of a beloved Roanoke parish, the patron saint of good confessions, of all people falsely accused of anything, and of expectant mothers: St. Gerard.

St Luke
St Luke
I think we see why we need to keep a Solemnity of “All Saints.”

By the time we reached the reign of the Roman Emperor Diocletian, during the fourth century AD, we already had many more holy martyrs to commemorate than there are days in a year. One November First, the pope dedicated a chapel in St. Peter’s basilica in honor of a large number of saints and martyrs. That’s how November 1st became All Saints Day.

Which means that’s how Halloween began, too. Since “Halloween” means, of course, the ‘e’en’ before the day hallowed by all the saints.

Do we think they have candy in heaven? Or some pretty good costumes, like Darth Vader? I guess Darth Vader couldn’t be in heaven, since he’s a bad guy. Except, wait a minute—didn’t he repent, in the end?

The Four Last Things. 1. Death. 2. Heaven. 3. The other place that starts with an h. What about #4? Does everyone go straight either to heaven or to hell, when they die?

Purgatory! Purification, where we make up for all our sins during our lives on earth.

We begin the month of November with a solemnity on All Saints’ Day; we eat candy; we get an extra hour’s sleep!

Then we spend the rest of November praying for all the souls in…. purgatory. Because we can help them. We can pray. We can have Masses said for them. We can make sacrifices, and ask the Lord to count our sacrifices for them—so they can get to heaven sooner.

We Catholic Christians can have a good time on Halloween and on All Saints Day. We can have a good time even when the days get short and cold. Why? Because we need not fear death.

Christ our Lord has conquered death. He has conquered all the demons and ghouls and evil spirits. He has gone down among the skeletons, and He has touched their dry bones with His life.

Christ has unlocked the door to heaven. We can knock on that door, and say “Trick or treat!” And He will answer, “Give Me a good pilgrim life on earth, dear child. Then you will receive a treat more wonderful than you could ever imagine. A million Snickers bars would not hold a candle to the treat you will get. Give Me a good pilgrim life, and you can look forward to joining all the saints forever.”

Wait, Storm Surge!

Let’s consider our first reading for All Saints Day, from our favorite book of the Bible, Revelation…

Do not damage the land or the sea or the trees until we put the seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God. (Revelation 7:3)

Do not damage the land or the sea or the trees. Yet. Wait to destroy it all. Wait to level the pillars of the earth. Wait to cast the stars down from the sky. Wait until the chosen people have been marked on the forehead with the seal of God.

“Be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit.” With these words, and with the sign of the cross on our foreheads, we were confirmed as Christians. We cannot see the seal on each others’ foreheads now. But it is perfectly real and absolutely permanent.

The mark of fully initiated Christians cannot be seen by human eyes yet, but the angels see it. They see the cross of chrism that the bishop traced. The angels will see it there when our skulls lay in the grave. And we, too, finally will see it on our brothers’ and sisters’ foreheads—at the general resurrection.

So saith the angel sent by the Lamb of God: Wait, destroyers of the heavens and the earth! Wait. Wait until all the springtime confirmation Masses have taken place. Wait until everyone gets through RCIA. Wait until the last baby gets baptized. Then you can consume the earth in the great and terrible fire.

Scripture gives us our insight into this dramatic divine order: Wait.

We hardly need the Scriptures to teach us that destruction will indeed overcome the material cosmos. We see the force of destruction at work every day. Sometimes the force looms large, like a huge hurricane storm surge. On the other hand, more often we see the force at work in little ways. Things get old, fall apart, fail. Fan belts crack. Screws rust. Duct tape loses its adhesive power. Chaos sets in. Beautiful and complete wholes dissolve into piles of dust.

But the forces of destruction do not have infinite power. That is what we learn from God’s Word. The ultimate power allows destruction to do its work, but under this order: Wait until the people have been sealed.

The world will be purified by fire. Then the dead will rise again. The seal of the cross will mark the saints.

We live, therefore, in the gracious interval. We are living during time specifically ordained by God, ordained for one reason: our salvation. The love of Christ has given us the very days in which we live.

Why does this sacred time have light and sunrises and sunsets and autumns and springtimes? To build up the eternal city, to build up the kingdom of God for the day that will last forever, for the undying springtime that will never give way to a hurricane season. Every moment of time in our lives comes like a pregnant woman, ready to give birth to the eternity to come.

What does a saint do now, then? I protest that I myself don’t rightly know. But: Seems to me that a saint is simply a fully initiated Christian who greets every moment of time for what it is. Every second comes as a gift that God has preserved from annihilation. He has preserved it so that we could do something beautiful with it.

Everybody’s Holy Day


People say that Catholics have a hard time observing holy days in our thoroughly secularized culture.

But that is not exactly the case when it comes to keeping All Saints’ Day. Just about the entire American population observes this holy day—by doing something unusual the night before, be it dressing up, or giving out candy, or watching horror movies.

Continue reading “Everybody’s Holy Day”

Getting to Heaven and other news

National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden
Graft, a.k.a. the White Tree

Down on the Mall, they keep putting up sculptures that make you think of The Lord of the Rings.

They don’t mean to do it. In the spring, they unintentionally put up a sculpture of Shelob, the giant spider, in front of the Hirschhorn Museum.

Now they have accidentally installed a sculpture of the White Tree of Gondor.

“Graft” is what they call a Roxy Paine “Dendroid.” Very trendoid in the art world, apparently. Little do these modern sculptors know that they are setting the stage for the success of the quest…

tommy_sheppard…Painful loss for the Wizards this evening. (Maybe Shaq isn’t a liability, after all.)

But congratulations to Wizards V.P. Tommy Sheppard for winning the 2009 NBA Splaver/McHugh “Tribute to Excellence” Award!

…Here is a homily which some poor people had to endure on Sunday, All Saints Day:

Your reward will be great in heaven…You will be comforted…You will inherit the land…You will be satisfied…Mercy will be shown you…You will see God. (see Matthew 5:1-8)

These are Christ’s promises to us. Countless Christians have gone before us, and they have already seen these promises fulfilled. Today we salute the saints. They can attest that the Lord is faithful to His promises.

Up in heaven, the saints rejoice in the faithful goodness of God. Here are a few lines of their hymn:

Blessing and glory, wisdom and thanksgiving, honor, power, and might be to our God forever and ever…Salvation comes from our God, who is seated on the throne, and from the Lamb. (Revelation 7:10, 12)

The saints see the promises fulfilled, and they sing out praise to God. May our hymns harmonize with the hymn of the saints in heaven. We sing because we believe in the One who made the promises.

Sermon_on_the_Mount_Fra_AngelicoBut before we get carried away, we have to pause. To whom did the Lord make His sweet promises?

Blessed are…

The poor in spirit. They who mourn. The meek. The hungry and thirsty. The merciful. The clean of heart. The peacemakers.

This is what the saints were like when they were on earth: poor, merciful, meek, mourning, hungry, thirsty, pure-hearted peacemakers–like Christ Himself. Christ is the Blessed One, the Man of Promise. To be blessed, to inherit the promises, we must be like Him. We must be united with Him.

Every man who has hope based on Christ makes himself pure as He is pure (I John 3:3).

The saints have washed their robes and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb (Revelation 7:14).

To receive the promises, we must be purified. To be like Christ, united with Him, we must be washed clean of sin.

We may be humble and poor in spirit, but not humble enough. We may mourn the evils of the world, but we do not mourn them enough. We may be meek, but not meek enough. We may hunger and thirst for righteousness, but we are not hungry and thirsty enough. We may be merciful to our brothers and sisters in this world, but not merciful enough. Our hearts may clean, but they are not clean enough. We may make peace sometimes, but nowhere near often enough.

baptism-holy-card1At the moment after we were baptized, we were pure. For many of us, that was some time ago. Then it was God’s good pleasure to leave us on earth for a while. Our mission on earth is to do good and avoid evil, to be like Christ.

By God’s grace, we have done some good. We praise God for it. On the other hand, because we are weak and selfish, we have not always avoided evil. We have no one to blame for this but ourselves. The good is God’s, the evil is ours. The praise is God’s; the impurity is ours.

If only we could go back to the baptismal font, and get washed clean by the Blood of the Lamb again! If only we could meekly, mournfully approach the Prince of Peace—if only we could kneel before the Throne of Mercy, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, and have our hearts cleaned and refreshed!

If only…if only? Would the all-merciful, all-loving Lord leave us high and dry, with no way back to His life-giving waters? Would He make promises that could never be fulfilled, because there was no way to purify ourselves so we could inherit them?

Of course He would not do that. What did He say to the first priests? He said: “Whoever’s sins you forgive are forgiven them…Whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

confessionalAll Saints Day. Let’s consider the one thing that all the saints have in common. When they trod the earth, they were very different people. They became holy in different ways.

But they all confessed their sins. They were all humble enough to confess. They were not too proud. They were holy, but they knew they were not holy enough.

And they were not too proud to confess their sins to a priest. They were not too Protestantized to admit that the way God’s mercy works is by confessing to a priest.

So, let’s keep All Saints Day holy by singing our hymns of praise to God. Let’s echo the hymns of the saints as best we can. Let’s give the Lord all the praise and glory that are His. Let us salute the saints with joy. And let’s remember that the saints are the people who spent their lives confessing their sins.

Empire Boulevard, Brooklyn

metro-train-crash-washington-dc

It has been a month since the Monday evening that rattled me as much as I have been rattled in a long time. I think September 11, 2001, was the last time I sat in front of a televison in a state of such distress.

The Washington Metro opened when I was a little boy. My dad worked for the city then, and we rode on a special Metro ride for V.I.P.’s, the day before the system opened.

He was so excited about the Metro that he used to ride it one stop each evening, from his office at Farragut North to the end of the red line at Dupont Circle. Then he would catch the bus the rest of the way to our house (near Friendship Heights–only a shaded ‘future’ station on the map back then).

empireThe Metro ride did not save him any time or trouble. He did it out of sheer excitement.

I guess children who grow up on farms have a special love for pigs and tractors. They do not like to see sick pigs or mangled tractors. For me, it is the Metro.

There was a deadly Metro crash in January, 1982–the same afternoon Air Florida Flight 90 crashed into the 14th-Street bridge and plummeted into the Potomac River. And a Metro operator was killed in a crash in 1996.

But I think the crash on June 22 is the event that will mark a turning point in Washington subway history equivalent to the turning point that was reached in New York City ten days before the end of World War I:

Have you ever been to Frederick Law Olmstead’s magnificent Prospect Park in Brooklyn? One of the exits of the park opens onto Empire Boulevard.

Malbone wreckThis street once had a different name. They had to change the name of the street, because the old name had become synonymous with death and horror. Empire Boulevard was once Malbone Street.

Click here for the New York Times account of the deadliest non-terrorist subway catastrophe in history, which happened in the tunnel outside the Malbone Street station on All Saints Day, 1918.

At least 93 people died. The crash occurred because a non-union scab with two hours of training was operating the Brighton Beach express during a strike. He took a six-mile-an-hour curve at 40 mph.

The responsible authorities were indicted for manslaughter.

The NYC subway bounced back. It became a professional operation. May the same happen here in Washington. And may all the dead rest in peace.

Giving the Holy Ones Their Props

Props for the Holy Ones?  None to be seen.
Props for the Holy Ones? None to be seen.
According to the Pope, one of the reasons why we have a Solemnity of All Saints is to make up for all the times we have failed to honor the saints during the rest of the year.

This raises the question: What do we owe the saints?

They of course do not need anything from us. That is the whole point of it: The saints are done with needing things. They are in the state of enjoying–enjoying eternal life with God.

For our sakes, we owe the saints praise, admiration, reverence, and imitation. Their memory is fully alive in heaven; we owe it to ourselves to keep their memory alive here on earth.

Today’s feast provides a good occasion for friendly ecumenical reflection. Protestants have charged the Catholic Church with neglecting God by worshiping the saints.

NOW we're talking.
NOW we're talking.
Now, in truth, to revere a saint is to worship God, since God alone makes a saint a saint. To admire a saint is to admire the work of God’s grace.

Let us Catholics freely express regret, though, for any instances of ignoring God for the sake of saints. Shouldn’t happen. God is God. God alone deserves our highest praise, adoration, and submission. There is no doubt that our dear Protestant brothers and sisters are right to insist on this point.

On the other hand, we Catholics have something to say to our Protestant friends, too. Face it, people: We owe the saints. We owe them some serious props. For our sakes, we owe them liturgical acknowledgement (i.e., prayers).

How, dear Protestant brethren, can you so shamelessly neglect to keep the saints’ feast days? They are up in heaven praying for all of us and winning graces for all of us–and you ignore them? Not nice.

Let us, then, keep All Saints Day by loving the saints all the more and praising them all the more. We need to make up for all our good Christian brothers and sisters who neglect to keep the saints’ feast days.

Laughing our Way into the Month of Death

November is the month of death. There is no getting around it. The leaves wither and fall. The song birds fly away. The night grows longer and longer.

The Church knows that November is the month of death. We begin the month by praying to all the dead people in heaven. The next day we start praying for all the dead people in purgatory. We spend the whole month praying for the dead people in purgatory.

So November is the month of death. The month of death begins on All Hallows’ Eve, Halloween, the night before All Saints Day. Is Halloween a Christian holiday? Yes, it most certainly is.

What happens on Halloween? We confront ourselves with the darkest and most mysterious things: Death. Evil spirits. Putting on a costume poses the most murky question of all: Who am I really?

Then what happens? Laughter and merriment. On Halloween, little children dress up as skeletons, witches, ghosts, goblins—evil, dark things. Then they proceed to run around and giggle.

How is this possible? How is it that on Halloween night, the night when the month of death arrives, the night when darkness appears to conquer the sunlight—how is it that we make merry?

There is one reason. The one reason why we need not fear everything that is evil and dark. Only a Christian people could laugh during the dark night and have fun dressing up like demons. We are not afraid of these things.

Why? Because of Christ. The Light has come to the world, and the darkness has not overcome it. We Christians laugh at all the things before which pagans cower.