Nov. 1, 2018
Homily for All Saints Day – November 1, 2018
Revelation 21: 1-7
Matthew 5: 1-12
Who are the saints? Thomas Merton writes: “For me to be a saint means to be myself”.1 This is not a simple sentence as it looks. As he explains, other creatures receive their sanctity simply by being who they are: montains, trees, and animals exude the glory of God without any effort. With human beings is different. We are on our path to sanctity or, if we do nothing about it, we are on the path to perdition. God does not condemn anybody, but we can create our own misery and condemn ourselves. As Merton writes, “we can be ourselves or not, as we please. We are at liberty to be real, or to be unreal. We may be true or false, the choice is ours. We may wear now one mask and now another, and never, if we so desire, appear with our own true face. But we cannot make these choices with impunity”.2 There are many reasons why we avoid knowing and accepting who we really are, not in the abstract, as members of the human species, but as individuals. For the most part, we are afraid of not being enough, we are embarassed by our specific weaknesses, and we strive to move toward an ideal image of ourselves which we will never be able to reach. Rarely we want to be the person that God intended us to be. At times, we even hate our life and we want to be somebody else entirely. The saints are those who have been able to avoid this kind of escapism. The saints are those who have let go of all their pretenses, those who have cast off their various masks, those who have mustered the courage to be naked in front of themselves, before God, and even before their brothers and sisters. There are, of course, many reasons why we hide. We might even need our masks to survive in a difficult world, like a form of self-defense. But the trouble is that, because we keep wearing them, we end up identifying with them. We believe our own lies and we think we are that ideal image of ourselves that we project outside for others to like us. “For me to be a saint means to be myself”, writes Thoman Merton. But how can I be myself if I don't know anymore who I am? If I don't apply myself to let the truth of myself emerge? The truth of myself. Not what I think about myself, but my real individuality, my actual propensities and gifts, together with those limitations or needs that make me weak or even unlovable – or so I think - and yet make up my personality just as God intended it to be.
[The Beatitudes (“Honored are the poor.... Honored are those who weep... Honored are the meek... or Blessed... Mt 5: 1-12) may look like a list of different ways of being a saint, or a list of virtues that everybody should aspire to: being meek, being peaceful, being compassionate, and so on and so forth. But the Beatitudes are rather a declaration. Jesus declares that those who let go of their claims to be what they are not, their claims to be powerful and splendid, to be constantly “on top of things” outside but especially within themselves... those who let go of those claims and find themselves to be just what they are, with their real limitations, with their real gifts, and especially with their deep desire to be made whole, those are blessed and honored by the Creator and Master of the universe, no less.]
The Beatitudes talk about a condition of lack. Being poor and weeping is surely not a place in life to which anybody should aspire, for any reason, but it is a condition in which we find ourselves at the beginning of our spiritual journey, when our egos break down – and we need many such beginnings! Once we let go of the imaginations that we have about ourselves, once we are confronted with insuccess of any kind, we are led to a place of deep sorrow. That's why we encounter so much grief and weeping in the biographies of almost all the saints.
In their original context, to be sure, the Beatitudes were not divorced from very concrete situations. They were crafted to express the divine point of view on the oppressed condition of those who did not conform to the image of the ideal human being, which was that of the dominant male. In the hellenistic culture of the Roman Empire, not only those materially poor, but anybody who would admit to be lacking and in need, would be considered inferior, lacking in honor. Those who wept in public, those who were meek rather than high-and-mighty, those who hosted within themselves a deep desire for justice rather than accepting things as they were, those who forgave and had compassion, those who did not have ulterior motives in their dealings with others and favored reconciliation over winning over their own enemies... all those were considered nobodies. And it is precisely to those nobodies who are in a condition of dishonor or place themselves in a condition of dishonor, that God, through Jesus, says: “I honor you. Your society does not honor you, but I do”. This was, and is, the originality and the power of the Gospel.
The saints, in sum, are those who are honored by God not despite their weaknesses, but in and through their weaknesses. Each and all the saints desperately wanted to be whole. But they didn't delude themselves into thinking to be already whole, or into running after their own ideal of perfection. The saints are those who haven't hidden to themselves and to others their true selves. They have let God work on them, through all kinds of adversities and struggles, and God has fashioned them in the true image of his Beloved Son, an image which is reflected in myriad different ways in each of them, in each individual personality. These people, the saints, are often strange people, even quirky people, rather imperfect people. They have become our lights on the path not because of their feats, not at all, but because of their nakedness and vulnerability which God has welcomed and rewarded by making them, through his grace, living lights burning of joy and giving glory to their Creator, in their life on earth and for all eternity. We are called to be on the path in their company. We are truly called to be on the same path. We are called to be. To be our true selves. Or rather to become ourselves through an unending process which only God can master but to which we must consent. That is our true sanctity. Amen.
1New Seeds of Contemplation, 31.
2New Seeds of Contemplation, 32.