Friday, June 01, 2007

All Saints Sunday

+In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Amen.

As you likely know, on each day of the Church calendar several particular saints are commemorated to remind us of their lives and contributions to our Christian faith. Today however we get a little more ambitious. Each year, on this first Sunday immediately following the Feast of Pentecost, the Church pauses to remember all the saints, that “great cloud of witnesses” encompassing us and supporting us by their examples and through their intercessions.

The placement of this “All Saints Day” on the Sunday after Pentecost is deliberate. Pentecost celebrates the descent of the Holy Spirit and the establishment of the New Testament Church. Today we are reminded that this same Holy Spirit and this same Church that together have made sainthood possible throughout the ages, still makes sainthood possible for us today.

I wonder if we sometimes forget that we have the same calling to sainthood as those who went on before us victoriously. Five years ago I got a reminder of this when His Grace, Bp. Panteleimon of Ghana visited several parishes in Southern California. While at St. Barnabas, His Grace was introduced to several of our parishioners there and in each case he made a brief comment to them in regard to their patron saint. Then a young woman named Kimberly was introduced to him. Somewhat apologetically, she said that she did not think there was a “St. Kimberly” at least as far as she knew. Without skipping a beat, the Bishop replied, “Perhaps you will be the first!”

Needless to say, that caught poor Kimberly just a bit off-guard. But it was a good reminder to her and to the rest of us that this is exactly what Christianity is all about. Christianity is a calling to sainthood. Regardless of whether or not our names will ever appear on the Church calendar some day, we are each still summoned to this same high calling, namely to become saints through our willing cooperation with the grace and action of the Holy Spirit who indwells us.

If Christianity is a calling to sainthood; if the “good news” of the gospel is that we can have a share in the holiness of God and be transformed into radiant vessels of light, then it would seem that one of the worst things that could happen to Christians would be for us to forget or neglect this, thereby reducing Christianity down to something much smaller. Indeed, many Christians today frame the gospel almost exclusively in terms of God forgiving our sins to “save” us, and take it no further. Many even go so far as to deny that Christians can truly begin to become holy in this life. This is a serious error, as the testimony of the lives of the saints down through the centuries so amply demonstrates. Without this call to sainthood, Christianity loses much of its meaning, and our life in Christ loses much of its purpose.

Every action that the Church calls us to--whether it is the call to prayer and fasting, the giving of tithes and alms, the performing of acts of mercy or charity, the resisting of temptation, the eradication of personal sins, the denial of self, the forgiveness of others--all these things have as their combined goal to transform us by the Holy Spirit into people of holiness.

The Christian life is not fundamentally one of passivity. It is never enough to simply call ourselves “Christian,” to come to church on Sunday and to presume that this somehow bestows upon us a special status with God that is saving. Christianity is all about transformation. At the heart of the Christian message is the recognition that God created us to share in His uncreated life and through this, to become like Him. God provides the means for this, but we must supply the willingness and the effort to see it through.

There’s the key right there: effort. There exists today a false notion that Christianity is essentially effortless. You believe in Jesus and you are saved. But the scriptures do not support this view. Jesus often told people whom He had healed to “go and sin no more”. Does that sound easy? To overcome our habits of sin, our attraction to sin, our basic selfishness, our lack of love for others, and to live as Jesus wants us to, is nothing short of a constant, daily struggle--if indeed we are making the attempt at all! My father/confessor puts it this way, that every step toward God is one of blood. What he means is that Christianity is by nature a struggle to lay aside every encumbrance and the sins that so easily entangle us and to run with endurance the race that is set before us.

St. Paul often used such athletic terminology to describe the Christian life. He spoke of “buffeting” his body in order to bring it under submission lest, after preaching to others, he himself was found to be a castaway. Thus even the great St. Paul did not regard his own salvation lightly, but confessed that if he allowed the passions of his flesh to rule over him unchecked, he would suffer great loss.

I fear that the somewhat passive nature of contemporary Christendom often lulls people into thinking that their salvation is assured as long as they “believe in Jesus,” whatever that supposedly means. But to our fathers and mothers in the faith, all the saints who comprise that “great cloud of witnesses” who have gone before us, to believe in Jesus meant to live for Him uncompromisingly and with great commitment.

Christianity is not a religion for wimps! It calls us to be real men and real women, who are willing to rise above selfishness and cowardice and sloth to become what God made us to be. In a very real sense, Christianity calls us to become heroes. The greatest heroes of literature and life are always those who rise above their fears and failings to accomplish the great things they never thought themselves capable of. Whether we realize it or not, all of these stories ultimately point toward the Christian. Each of our individual “epic stories” is meant by God to be one of triumph and great victory.

My brothers and sisters, each of you is called to become a hero. You are called to become a saint. We are all a bit like Bilbo Baggins in this regard, reluctant and unwilling to answer the call. We do not think ourselves qualified to pursue sainthood, and we are right. But God does not call the qualified; He qualifies the called. We must answer that call if we wish to see the mighty works of God accomplished in our lives. Today on All Saints Sunday, we are reminded of our calling to sainthood in Jesus Christ. Let us therefore trust Him who calls us and strive to gain the prize He holds for those that do.

+To the glory of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.


At 6/01/2007 9:05 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very nice, Fr. Mike. ~bq688

At 6/05/2007 7:54 AM , Blogger The last cause said...

I have heard this message before Fr. Ere, and I always curious exactly what is meant by "Being strong for God" or in different denominations "A Soldier in the Army of the Lord".

A call to be courageous and do..what?It may not be a lack of courage so much as it perhaps a lack of direction so to speak.

At 6/05/2007 8:22 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Last Cause:

I think Fr. Mike explained it when he said:

Christianity is by nature a struggle to lay aside every encumbrance and the sins that so easily entangle us and to run with endurance the race that is set before us.


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