All Saints/All Souls November 5, 2017
Rev. 7:9-17; 1 John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12
Thomas Merton wrote: “To be a saint is to be yourself.” When I say that, I imagine, right away, there is a voice that goes off in our heads saying, “I’m no saint.” We have probably heard from lots of people: “You’re no saint.” Sometimes we mistakenly think we are not good enough or it’s not safe to be ourselves. So we try mightily to be something or someone else. We build a persona made up of who others tell us we should be, or we put on a mask so no one will see the vulnerable person we know ourselves to be inside.
Fr. Gregory Boyle is a Jesuit priest who has worked with gang members in LA for over 25 years. In his book, Tatoos on the Heart, he writes about a conversation with a swaggering fifteen-year old gang member. (I read this account in Give Us This Day August 30, 2017, by Fr. Edward Foley). When Fr. G asks the gang member his name, he responds “Sniper.” “When you were born,” Fr. G says, “your mom didn’t look at you and think “Sniper.” He pushes a little bit and gets “Gonzalez,” obviously the boy’s familial name. He pushes again, “What’s your Mom call you?” The boy is embarrassed and squeaks out, “Napoleon.” A noble name, Fr. G affirms, but pushes further wanting to know what Mom really calls him. The kid melts, and in tears says that when his mom is not mad at him, she calls him “Napito.” Sometimes we need help to remember and own who we are when we have lost ourselves.
The first Letter of John reminds us: “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed.” This is surprising when you think about it. Wouldn’t we expect something like, “Say folks, you know, you just don’t have it together yet. You are sinners now. Who knows what you will become. Maybe one day, if you work really hard at it, you might possibly be lovable. And if you go the extra mile, maybe a few of you could become saints.”
But that is not what the letter says. The writer knows something about us that we so easily forget. Underneath our Sniper cover, we are children of the God who is tender and steadfast as a mother who knows our real name. All Saints and All Souls day is a day to remember who we are and who the One knows us.
We can never hear too often that we are children of the God who loves and suffers for us. To be children of God is to have the qualities of God, or to put it as Roberta did last week, “to witness to the characteristics of God in the world.”
To be beloved children of God is both a gift of God’s grace and a commitment to live so that others may recognize our loving God through us. To see the Christ in each other, which is another way of reminding each other we are beloved children of God, is also a gift we give each other. Fr. Gregory is a saint who helped Napito and other gang members reclaim their original name – beloved child of God.
Each weekday morning, the sisters gather for a chapter meeting where we read a portion of some spiritual reading and share our reflections. Then we talk about what is going on that day. Before we start the day, we read a brief sketch of the life of any sister in the community who died on that date. For some of the earliest sisters who died young we do not know very much. For other sisters whom some of us knew, we tell and listen to stories about them. They aren’t usually “holy stories.” I haven’t heard about any miracles yet. Nevertheless, reading their names and hearing a little about their ordinary faithful lives inspires me. I want to be like them: faithful, trying (perhaps in both senses of the word), colorful, human, ordinary saints who have gone before us and on whose shoulders we stand. The reading of their names reminds us that we are not a collection of individuals, but a community built on the faith of those who have gone before us. Through faithful love and self-giving service, through suffering and perseverance, the sisters have shown us what it means to be God’s children now. The columbarium where the cremains of the sisters who died in Madison and other friends of the monastery community are inurned is located on the outside wall of the oratory downstairs. So when the community gathers for prayer, it is not just the community now living wo gathers. We are reminded that we live and pray with the communion of saints who have gone before us.
This worshiping community and your families also have the communion of saints who have gone before you showing you how to live as children of God. This year these people joined the communion of saints from Sunday Assembly: Judy Jones, Ron Martin, Joan McCarthy. And I know some of your own family members and friends have died this year. They have received the hope of life promised in Christ.
Following communion we will place candles on the altar to remember and honor our own beloved dead, those who have called us to our true identity as children of God and who have modeled something of God’s life to us. May their memories remind us again of who we are in Christ and strengthen us in the hope of becoming more than we can even imagine in this life.