On Thursday, November 1, the Regis High School community gathered in the auditorium to celebrate All Saints Day Mass. Below is a video reprint of Fr. A.J. Rizzo, SJ's homily delivered at the Mass.
Today, the Church sets aside a day for us to celebrate the Saints, both Big S saints and small s saints – in our world and in our lives. Reading their stories, learning about their lives, reminds me that the opposite of a saint is not a sinner. Every human (and therefore, every Saint) there ever was – except for Jesus – has sinned. Saints are sinners too.
This was certainly true of Saint Ignatius Loyola. Before he turned his life around, he lived a life of gambling, dancing and romancing young ladies. He was even arrested during the Carnival of 1515 for what is listed as “premeditated and enormous crimes”.
In the 1920s, if you had to pick a woman who was the least likely candidate for sainthood, it would probably have been an anarchist and communist from Brooklyn named Dorothy Day. She worked as a journalist and spent many drunken nights downtown with famous writers like Hart Crane and Eugene O’Neill. She had an abortion, and a brief marriage, before finally being drawn to the gospel and converting to Catholicism. Her conversion led her to embark on a radical ministry to the poor, one that is still changing the world. She’s now a candidate for Sainthood – in fact, some of our students are working on her cause by transcribing her personal diaries..
It is in Jesus, and in His and our friends, the Communion of Saints, that we find models of holiness – of what is possible for our human lives in the context of God’s unconditional love. And so, when the second reading proclaims, “Beloved: See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God,” Saint John is calling us to recognize our Universal Call to a life of Holiness. We are each called to be Holy.
The question is, then, how? How do we live lives of Holiness? If each one of us is called to be Holy, to be Saints, how do we become Saints?
This was a question that a friend of Dorothy Day’s, Thomas Merton, struggled with for a good part of his life. A famous American Trappist monk and mystic, he lived just a short distance from here on the Upper West Side. In his autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, Merton recalls a conversation he had with his friend Bob while he was a graduate student at Columbia.
Bob asks Merton, what do you want to be? He replies, ‘I don’t know, I guess I want to be a good Catholic.’”
Bob responded: “What you should say is that you want to be a saint.”
Merton goes on to say, “A saint? How do you expect me to be a saint? I can’t be a saint!” Fast Forward, just ten years later, Merton would write in his work, Seeds of Contemplation:
“To be a Saint means to be myself. Therefore, the problem of holiness is in fact the problem of finding out who I am and of discovering my true self.”
Merton came a long way in the ten years from his time as a grad student at Columbia. He realized something, which, I believe, goes to the heart of our faith, something which all of the great Saints in our tradition and in my life have realized at some point in their journeys back to God: namely, that our paths to holiness lie in discovering the people God created us to be, and being those people. Period.
It is good to hold the Saint up as role models. But the truth is, we are not called to be the next John Francis Regis, or Oscar Romero, Teresa of Calcutta, or Ignatius Loyola. We are called, in Love, to be ourselves – and to be patient yet courageous in that – even when your classmates, or the Church or our larger society, or even you yourself are not yet ready to fully accept who God is calling you to be. I can still remember the dawning realization that I might be called to be a Jesuit and a priest. To say that I was initially resistant to the idea would be an understatement. But God was relentless, and I am so grateful that he was. I love my life as a Jesuit and a priest. There is a joy that we experience when we live our lives in that sweet spot, doing what we are created to do. I experience that joy every day of my life… most recently here at Regis. This place is a gift to me.
The BBC estimates that about 107 billion people have ever lived on earth. And in those 107 billion, there is only one you with your unique talents, gifts, and abilities.
Yes, my friends, we are called to be those people God created us to be – nothing more, nothing less. Part of that call is to be people within a people – a community. We are called to be a people of the Beatitudes, a people who work tirelessly for justice and peace, people who are merciful, people who are hungry for righteousness – especially for the least and the last in our society and in our world. We are called to go to the margins of the Church, of our society, in what Pope Francis calls a spirit of encounter, of friendship, where we find not strangers but sisters and brothers. When we do that? We participate in bringing forth the reign of God. We take our place as saints among the saints, in the long line of women and men of the Beatitudes who have preceded us.
It’s a tall order. And it is nothing less than a call to greatness. But this feast day reminds us, whether we realize it or not: it can be ours. This kind of greatness is within our grasp. All Saints Day beckons us to something beautiful. It reminds us of our great potential—the promise that lies within each of us. The promise of holiness. It is the promise that was fulfilled in the countless people we venerate this day—our models, our companions, our inspirations, our guides. All the saints. They give us blessed hope.
Because they assure us again and again: to be a saint means to be myself. Every one of us, by the grace of God, can become one.