Homily: Why Not Us?

November 1, 2020 – Solemnity of All Saints

Readings: Revelation 7:2-4, 9-14 / 1 John 3:1-3 / Matthew 5:1-12

The following is a homily I will be delivering at St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis this morning:

I was a latecomer to social media. I only opened a Facebook account a couple of years ago at the urging of my wife. However, it was not until the pandemic came along that I really used the account. It was a way to stay connected to family and friends when doing so in person was not possible.

I suddenly found myself connecting with hundreds of people, some of whom I had not seen or heard from in over forty years.

I found it interesting that a number of people asked, “Is this the same Rick Wagner that went to grade school at St. Pius and high school at Bishop Chatard?” My profile clearly shows that I did indeed attend those schools, so I don’t think that really confused them.

I think the word ‘Deacon’ in front of my name was what left them wondering. What they really wanted to ask was, “YOU are a deacon?”

Let’s just say that – unlike the saintly path of our pastor – my early years would not have made my path to ordination obvious.

I have resigned myself to the fact that I am a work in progress. We are all on a journey. If you are like me, you stumble more than you progress, and you regret more of your actions than you celebrate.

The majority of us are sinners making our way the best we know how.

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Today we celebrate the Solemnity of All Saints. This feast day recognizes the holy men and women that have gone before us, but more importantly, invites us to respond to our own call to holiness. Answering that call requires living a life that is set apart, reserved to give glory to God. It is a life of discipline, focus, and attention to the will of God.

Maybe you are thinking, “Wait a minute! I didn’t agree to that!” Even if you didn’t agree to it per se, you regularly state that you believe it. Each time we pray the Nicene Creed at Mass, we say, “I believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.”

These words mean that we believe in our hearts and affirm that each person is welcome at the table, that we have a duty to spread the gospel message in word and deed, AND that we will do our best to live a life of holiness.

The word holy means set apart for a special purpose by and for God. Our holiness derives from Christ’s holiness.

When we reflect on the life of the saints, or on the idea of sainthood in general, I think we have a tendency to view sainthood as unattainable; it is reserved for the ultra-holy.

It might help to think of holiness as a continuum, with saints on one end and the worst of sinners on the other. We are all somewhere on that continuum. We are sinners working our way toward sainthood – stumbling along the way – two steps forward, one step back. The ultimate goal for all of us is sainthood. Why can’t we be saints? Why not us?

The fact is, all saints were sinners first. Some were serial sinners.

Saint Paul persecuted and killed Christian believers prior to his conversion of heart. Saint Peter denied three times that he even knew Jesus prior to accepting the gift of the Holy Spirit. Saint Matthew, a Jew working as a tax collector for the Romans, knowingly cheated his kinsmen out of the little money they had – not only for the benefit of the Roman government, but for his own personal gain. The list of “sinners to saints” goes on and on.

Today’s readings remind us that our call to holiness took place at our baptism. We were not only called to holiness, but also marked as future saints.

In our first reading from the Book of Revelation we heard these words:  …those who had been marked with the seal came from every tribe of the children of Israel…from every nation, race, people, and tongue.

As part of the Baptismal Rite of the Church, the priest or deacon anoints the child with Sacred Chrism. As he “marks them with the seal” he says these words: He now anoints you with the Chrism of salvation, so that you remain as a member of Christ – Priest, Prophet, and King, unto eternal life.

At our baptism, each one of us was anointed as priest, prophet, and king. Those are the roles that we are to carry out in following Jesus.

We share in his priesthood. That means that when we come to the Eucharist, it isn’t just the priest who is offering the Mass, it’s all of us together. We share in the priesthood of Jesus when we act justly, love tenderly, and walk humbly toward God.

We are also prophets – ones who speak for God, not just in words, but by the way we live.

We also share in the kingship of Christ. Jesus was not a traditional ruler, seeking wealth and power, instead, he reminded us, “If you want to be the first you must take the role of the last and be the very slave of others.”

Through our baptism, we are marked with the sign of faith. We are blessed to share with Jesus the role of priest, prophet, and king. If we embrace that, why can’t we achieve sainthood? Why not us?

In our second reading from the First Letter from John, John wrote: See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God…we are God’s children now.

Once again, we are reminded of our baptism when, as part of the baptismal rite, the priest or deacon announces: This child, reborn through Baptism, is now called a child of God.

The seal of baptism offers us the gift of membership in Christ – ordained as children of God and sharing in the roles of priest, prophet and king. Nothing is beyond our capabilities if we open our hearts and desire to do his will.

Perhaps the most beautiful and hopeful words we heard today also came from John’s letter. He wrote: …what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like Christ.

Saint Teresa of Calcutta once said, “Saints are only sinners who keep trying.”

The sacred seal of baptism opened the door of sainthood to all of us. The saints we celebrate today simply had the courage to walk through that door.

Why not us?

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