Revelation 7: 2 – 4, 9 – 14; 1 John 3: 1 – 3; Matthew 5: 1 – 12
How do you define a Saint? Usually when we begin describing the qualities of a saintly person, they are at such a high level of holiness that few people could achieve it, and certainly not any ordinary Catholic. The Catechism speaks of a saint in this way, “By canonizing some of the faithful, i.e., by solemnly proclaiming that they practiced heroic virtue and lived in fidelity to God’s grace, the Church recognizes the power of the Spirit of holiness within her and sustains the hope of believers by proposing the saints to them as models and intercessors.” CCC 828. This definition points out two basic qualifications, heroic virtue and fidelity to God’s grace as qualities of a saint. These set a high standard, but probably not as high as those that we might set.
Throughout the Church Year we celebrate specific days for saints. Men and women who were widely recognized for their heroic virtue and fidelity to God’s grace, and whose causes went through the process of canonization, are those who are listed on the Roman Calendar. The process for canonization usually takes years and much scrutiny of the life, the works, and the writings of the person, and usually the need of two miracles attributed to their intercession. These are the saints who can be venerated with various devotions, whose names adorn church’s and societies, and whose images can be found on holy cards and medals. We call upon them to intercede for us in our various needs, often they are patron saints for very specific needs or conditions that were part of their earthly life.
The early Christians began to commemorate the members of their communities who died as witnesses to the faith. The Greek word for witness is martyr, and refers to those who died for their faith. By the fourth century various Christian Communities aside a day to remember and honor the martyrs of their area: this observance was soon expanded to include other saintly people. In the Ninth century these observances became so widespread that Pope Gregory IV set November 1st as All Saints Day. It is a day to honor all who have gone before us as examples of heroic virtue and fidelity to God’s grace.
By our Baptism each one of us is called to sainthood. In the First Letter of John we are reminded “what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. Yet so we are.” As God’s children we are heirs to his kingdom. How are we to live so as to receive this inheritance of spending eternity in the midst of the glory of God in Heaven? We are called to live lives of heroic virtue and fidelity to God’s grace. Whatever state of life is ours and whatever situations we find ourselves in each day, be mindful of who we are and what inheritance awaits us.
Jesus teaches us in the Gospel about those who will inherit the Kingdom. His list is, the poor in spirit, the mourners, the meek, the seekers of righteousness, the merciful, the clean of heart, the peacemakers, those persecuted for righteousness, those insulted and persecuted for being a follower of Jesus. These will be blessed in many ways, and ultimately receive a great reward in heaven.
Most likely we all have known people who epitomized these qualities, and we can easily imagine them in heaven. We are all called to take on and accept these situations and qualities in our lives. This is the path to Sainthood, which is ultimately the path to Heaven.
Father Killian Loch, O.S.B.