All Saint’s Day has come once again. Certainly all the Halloween decorations and activity are forefront in our minds, but we cannot escape that the celebration is focused on saints. In recent workshops and classes I have given, this topic of “Everyday Sanctity” has come up repeatedly. It is clear the Gospel mandate is very strong to “be perfect just as your heavenly father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48) But this seems like an impossibility, like utter nonsense. Not only can we not be perfect, we are not even sure we can achieve even a moderate level of holiness. This is where I would like to challenge you and your entire family, each member individually. We will use chapter 15 of the Gospel of John to explain the situation.
Would Jesus ask us to do something that was impossible for us to do?
Jesus did not ask us to create the universe or to tell the sun when to rise; he asked us to do something that he knew was possible. It’s certainly not possible by our own efforts, but it is nonetheless possible with his help. “He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15) I think here is the real challenge — not to believe that it is possible but to figure out how we can “abide in him” so that we can bear much fruit, even the fruit of perfection.
“If you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you. By this my father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples.” (John 15:7-8)
Jesus tells us that we must remain in him and his words must also remain in us. The words of Christ that we have easiest access to are the ones written in the four Gospels. As parents, grandparents and adults guiding children, do the words of Christ remain in us? Do we habitually read the Gospels? Do we think and ponder what they could be saying to us? Do we ever engage in the prayerful reading of the Gospels known as Lectio Divina?
This word, the Living Word of Holy Scripture, is a word that transforms us from the inside out. We begin to think as he thinks, to see the poor as he sees the poor, to see the outcast as he sees the outcast. We begin to see the log in our own eye before trying to pick out the dust in our family member’s eye. This is a word which brings a heavenly perspective, a word which brings a deep sense of humility about the fleeting nature of life here on earth, and the permanence and preeminence of life after this earthly pilgrimage. This is why Jesus can then tell us to ask for what we want, because if his words are firmly rooted inside of us, we will want what he wants and therefore ask for things which are in accord with his will. But he has not yet told us how we can remain in him.
“As the Father has loved me, have I loved you; in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my father’s commandments and abide in his love.” (John 15:9-10)
Now we finally come to it — where the rubber meets the road. Jesus tells us that in order to remain in his love, we must keep his commandments. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus gives us a summary of what he believes are the greatest commandments. He says the greatest is “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37) The second is “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:39) Our reflection during this feast of All Saints and in anticipation of the upcoming Advent season are these two commandments. How well do we live our complete love of God and the love of our neighbors?
It is not my intention to put on you a weight greater than you can bear. It is my intention to tell you the truth and let you make the necessary changes in your life so that you and I can bring to life the words spoken by our Lord and Savior: that we are called to holiness and to bear much fruit. Jesus knows that this is a hard task — sanctity and heaven cannot be bought at a cheap price. The price is primarily the suffering and death of Jesus on the Cross but in order for that great saving work to have its proper effect in our lives, we must cooperate, we must accept his challenges, and while we know we are too weak to do it alone, we must surrender our effort into his merciful hands so that he can be in us what alone we cannot be ourselves.
Moreover, this holy season reminds us that Jesus has not abandoned us to this lifelong task without helpers. Besides his most gracious help, he has also provided for us “so great a cloud of witnesses.” (Hebrews 12:1) The foremost of those heavenly helpers is the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, who lived and exemplified the call to holiness and perfection that Jesus makes of each of us. He also sends us the help of our guardian angels, our patron saints and all the heavenly court to help us, inspire us and guide us on this path that each of them walked in their own way and time.
I encourage you to take up the baton that has been passed to us by so many great saints throughout history. Take your place as the new people, ready and willing to humble ourselves, to do the hard work of loving God and loving our neighbor, knowing that this is the reason we are here and this is the destiny Jesus has marked out for us and has announced to us in the Gospel. And do not be afraid of what may come, for he tells us in the book of the Prophet Isaiah, “Do not fear: I am with you; do not be anxious: I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)