|Crystal Cathedral on Friday before Magnificat Day of Faith|
Over ten years ago Blessed John Paul II, in his apostolic letter at the end of the Jubilee Year and the beginning of the new millennium, wrote: "The time has come to re-propose wholeheartedly to everyone the high standard of ordinary Christian living." He issued a "call for a genuine 'training in holiness'" and said that "this training in holiness calls for a Christian life distinguished above all in the art of prayer."
Just last month, Pope Benedict, in his homily at the opening of the Synod of Bishops which met to discuss the New Evangelization, said that holiness is "the language of truth and love."
How do we learn to understand and to speak this language? From those who have spoken it. From the saints, the witnesses of faith.
When Pope Benedict announced the Year of Faith in his apostolic letter Porta Fidei, "The Door of Faith," he presented the saints to us. First and foremost he spoke of the Blessed Virgin Mary as a model of faith, saying: "By faith, Mary accepted the Angel's word and believed the message that she was to become the Mother of God in obedience of her devotion. Visiting Elizabeth, she raised her hymn of praise [the Magnificat] to the Most High for the marvels he worked in those who trust him." He went on to say that Mary trusted the dream that her husband St. Joseph received and "took Jesus to Egypt to save him from Herod's persecution." And, "with the same faith, she followed the Lord in his preaching and remained with him all the way to Golgotha."
Then the Holy Father presented to us the apostles and the first disciples of the early Church and the martyrs, about whom he said: "By faith, the martyrs gave their lives, bearing witness to the truth of the Gospel that had transformed them and made them capable of attaining to the greatest gift of love: the forgiveness of their persecutors."
And then he wrote about all the saints of every time and place, saying: "By faith, across the centuries, men and women of all ages, whose names are written in the Book of Life, have confessed the beauty of following the Lord Jesus wherever they were called to bear witness to the fact that they were Christian: in the family, in the workplace, in public life, in the exercise of the charisms and ministries to which they were called."
We too are called to be holy witnesses as they were. As Pope Benedict wrote: "By faith, we too live: by the living recognition of the Lord Jesus, present in our lives and in our history."
"Living recognition." This is what St. John wrote about in the reading we have just heard (1 John 1:1-4)--"what we have seen with our eyes, what we looked upon and touched with our hands." We are not able to see and to touch Jesus the way John did, but we can still see and touch him in a deeper way. We can see him with the eyes of faith. We can touch him with the eyes of our heart. And Jesus says that we are more blessed in seeing and touching him this way than in the way the apostles did.
Do you remember the scene in the Gospel when Jesus appeared to the apostles and Thomas did not believe until he actually touched the wounds of Jesus? Do you remember what Jesus said to him? "Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed" (John 20:29). We are blessed because, though we have not seen Jesus physically, we have seen and touched him through faith and with our hearts. Or rather, the Heart of Jesus, which was pierced open on the cross, has reached out to us. The Sacred Heart of Jesus has seen and touched us and so we have come to believe in the deep love he has for us.
We believe but we always need to go deeper in our faith. Our belief in his love for us can grow and deepen. How?
Pope Benedict gives us the answer in Porta Fidei: "Faith grows when it is lived as an experience of love received and when it is communicated as an experience of grace and joy."
Faith is a matter of the heart. Our faith is "an experience of love received," the love of God's Heart which was made flesh in the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Through faith our hearts respond to the One who loved us first and loved us totally, even to death.
The saints knew this love. They believed in it and they lived in union with its source--Jesus. We have their example and witness to inspire us. This is why Blessed John Paul II beatified and canonized more people than any previous pope. He wanted us to have examples of holiness to follow.
But there is more. We have not only their example and witness to inspire us. We have their help.
Have you ever been asked, "Why do you Catholics pray to saints?" The answer is very simple. People don't think twice about asking others to pray for them when they are faced with a crisis or difficulty. They turn to their family and friends to ask for prayers. This is what we do when we turn to the saints. Though they are dead they are not dead and gone. Though they are separated from us physically, in time and space, they are united to us spiritually in the Church, the Communion of Saints. So it is natural that we ask for their help.
The Letter to the Hebrews 12: 1-2 has a beautiful image of this: "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith." Whenever I read that passage I think of watching the marathon in the Twin Cities.
For four years I lived at our Jesuit novitiate which was located on the route of the marathon at about mile 21. Each year, on a Sunday in October, we would watch the runners: the first ones racing by and then over the next few hours the others chugging along, some simply walking. We would cheer them on and pass water to them, encouraging them to not give up. That's the image presented in Hebrews. We are all in a marathon and the saints are on the sidelines cheering us on, encouraging us, and offering us refreshment with their prayers.
We are part of a great Communion of Saints. We who are on earth are saints-in-the-making. Others have finished the race but they aren't resting. Rather, they pray for us and encourage us.
So don't give up! Have faith! Persevere! And may we all meet again in the Heavenly Jerusalem which, according to the Book of Revelation 21:11 gleams "with the splendor of God, ... its radiance like that of a precious stone, ... clear as crystal."