Last Friday, the Solemnity of All Saints, I presided and preached at the all-school Mass at St. Ignatius Prep in Chicago.
Our first reading from the Book of Revelation (7:2-4, 9-14) gives us a picture of the saints in heavenly glory. These are the heroes and heroines of our faith. They had the courage to stand up for what is right even when their lives were threatened. The image may make them seem distant from us, but they are in reality very close.
I like another image of the saints that can be found in Hebrews 12: 1-2: "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."
Some years ago I lived at the Jesuit Novitiate on Summit Avenue in St. Paul, Minnesota. Every fall the Twin Cities Marathon would race by our house. Actually, the first runners "raced by" but as the hours passed, the stragglers--some barely jogging, many just walking--came chugging along. People lined up along the street to watch would cheer them on and hand them cups of water and Gatorade.
That's the image we see in Hebrews. We are in the race of life and we are surrounded by the saints who offer us encouragement, who pray for us, who intercede for us. We may be physically separated from them and from other deceased people but we are intimately united to them in a deep, spiritual bond. We are all members of the Body of Christ. Some parts of the Body have died but that doesn't mean they have gone out of existence. Rather, they are now with the Lord, the Head of the Body. You could say that we have friends in high places.
Last Wednesday Pope Francis said: "In this communion--communion means 'common-union'--we are a great family, all of us, where all the components help and support each other. ... All the baptized down here on earth ... and all the blessed who are already in paradise make up one great family."
We are one family because we are all children of God. We are children not just in name but in reality as our second reading (1 John 3:1-3) tells us: "See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called children of God. Yet so we are." As family we can ask for each other's help. Pope Francis said: "Our faith is in need of the support of others, especially in difficult moments. If we are united, faith becomes strong. Which one of us--everyone, everyone--has not felt insecurities, losses and even doubts in the journey of faith? All of us have experienced this, even myself: it is part of the path of faith, it is part of our life."
So we need to support one another. We need to ask for help from one another and from the saints. But to ask for help, Pope Francis said, requires two things--humility and courage. "It is important to find the courage and the humility to open oneself to others, to ask for help, to ask for a hand." It takes humility to admit that one is weak and in need of help. It takes courage to ask for that help.
We see both of these virtues--humility and courage--in the Beatitudes which are the basis of holiness, the basis of friendship with God and with one another.
Jesus said "Blessed are the poor in spirit" but the world says "Blessed are the proud, the self-sufficient, the independent who don't have to rely on others."
Jesus said "Blessed are they who mourn," who are able to share in the sufferings and sorrows of others. But the world says "Blessed are those who are untouched by others' sufferings, who are unfazed by sorrow, who are cold and indifferent."
Jesus said "Blessed are the meek" but the world says "Blessed are those who try to get to the top so that they can be above everyone else."
Jesus said "Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness," who support their friends in doing what is right. The world says "Blessed are those who follow the trends of a culture of death."
Jesus said "Blessed are the merciful," those who forgive one another. The world says "Blessed are those who get even, who hold grudges and resentments against one another so that they won't be vulnerable and get hurt again."
Jesus said "Blessed are the clean of heart," the pure of heart who see one another as beloved children of God. The world says "Blessed are those who see others as objects to be used for pleasure or in order to get ahead."
Jesus said "Blessed are the peacemakers" but the world says "Blessed are those who argue and create conflict, who gossip about others and add to the contentious environment in which we live."
Jesus said "Blessed are they who are persecuted." And you will be if you live according to these Beatitudes. The world will oppose you.
The Beatitudes are difficult to follow, in fact, impossible. On your own, that is. But they are what make heroes, saints.
At St. Ignatius Prep you have a great patron who can help you--St. Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuits. Next week Mr. Santiago Rodriguez, S.J., the youth and young adult director of the Apostleship of Prayer will be here to show you what you can learn from St. Ignatius. You will have an opportunity to participate in sessions that will address the purpose and meaning of life, discernment and tools for making good decisions, how the imagination can be used in prayer, and the "magis" or "more."
This was at the heart of St. Ignatius. It wasn't enough to do a few things for God. He always wanted to do more. It wasn't enough to give God great glory. He wanted to give God greater glory.
Later this month you will be hearing a lot about President Kennedy. It's the 50th anniversary of his assassination. In the speech he gave when he was inaugurated, he said "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." These words inspired a generation to volunteer to help others through the Peace Corps and VISTA. They inspired many to work for civil rights and for peace.
Today, as we honor the saints, we can hear words similar to those of President Kennedy and ask what we can do to live heroic lives? Ask not what others can do for you; ask what you can do for others. Ask not what your Church can do for you; ask what you can do for your Church.