Revelation 7:2–4, 9–14; 1 John 3:1–3; Matthew 5:1–12
In Their Footsteps
The saints preserved the faith for us and act as guides for us in our own faith journey.
About 60 years after the birth of Jesus,
a great fire broke out in Rome. It burned for over a week. Rumors spread that Emperor Nero had ordered the fire.
He wanted to destroy the old city of Rome, rebuild a new one, and name it after himself.
Nero did his utmost to stop the rumors,
but they refused to die.
Finally, in desperation, he seized upon a scapegoat to blame.
He falsely accused the Christian community in Rome of starting the fire.
Nero’s accusation touched off a religious persecution
that lasted for nearly 300 years. One Roman historian
describes the persecution in Nero’s time this way:
“The Christians were treated with unusual brutality.
Some were dressed in animal skins and torn apart by enraged dogs. Others were put on crosses and, at night, burned as torches to light the darkness.”
To protect themselves and to be able to practice their religion,
many Christians literally went underground.
They dug elaborate networks of tunnels in the soft volcanic subsoil of Rome. Some of these remarkable tunnels extended for miles and were designed like mazes to confuse the authorities.
Today, some of these caves, called catacombs,
are popular tourist sites in Rome.
It was in these underground tunnels that Christians celebrated Mass, baptized their young, and buried their dead.
Saint Jerome says in his writings that as a boy he and his friends used to play in the catacombs.
Centuries after Saint Jerome,
Roman boys still played in the catacombs.
One day a group of boys was wandering through the maze of tunnels. Suddenly their only flashlight gave out. The boys were trapped in total darkness with no idea of the way out.
They were on the verge of panic when one boy felt a smooth groove in the rock floor of the tunnel. It turned out to be a path that had been worn smooth by the feet of thousands of Christians in the days of the Roman persecutions.
The boys followed the footsteps of these saints of old and found their way out of the darkness into sunlight and safety.
We spent some time on that story for two reasons.
First, it shows the tremendous price our Christian forefathers paid for their faith. Had they not paid this price,
many of us would not be Christians today.
Second, the story of the boys in the catacombs acts as a kind of parable showing us how the saints of old can still play an important role in our lives.
Many of us are like the boys in the catacombs.
We are lost.
We are confused by conflicting opinions of what is right and what is wrong.
We are stumbling around in the darkness, not sure of which path to follow.
It’s right here that story of the boys in the catacombs acts as a parable for us.
The boys found a path on the floor of the tunnel that has been worn smooth by the footsteps of the saints centuries before them. By following the footsteps of the saints,
they were able to find their way out of the darkness of the catacombs into the brightness of the day.
In a similar way,
we too can follow in the footsteps of the saints.
We too can find our way out of the darkness and confusion of our time into the light of the day.
And so the Feast of All Saints serves two important purposes for us.
it reminds us of the great debt of gratitude we owe to the saints of old, who preserved our Catholic faith for us.
it reminds us that by imitating these saints and following in their footsteps, we too can find our way through the darkness of this world into the brightness of God’s presence.
The saints were not extraordinary people.
On the contrary, they were ordinary people like us.
They were people who lived their ordinary lives in an extraordinary way.
Let’s close by paraphrasing John Oxenham’s poem
It sums up the invitation and the challenge that the Feast of All Saints holds out to each one of us:
“To every person there opens a way: a high way and a low.
And the high soul climbs the high way;
and the low soul gropes the low;
and in between on the misty flats,
the rest drift to and fro.
“But to every person there opens a way, a high way and a low.
And every person decides the way his soul shall go.”
The Feast of All Saints invites us to have the courage
to imitate the saints and to choose the high way.
If we do, we will someday find ourselves in the company of the saints in heaven and share their happiness for ever and ever.
Revelation 7:2–4, 9–14; John 3:1–3; Matthew 5:1–12
What Is a Saint?
Saints are simply people who took seriously Jesus’ invitation to love one another as he loved us.
When we think of the saints, we think of people like Saint Ignatius of Loyola. He was born about the time that Columbus discovered America.
As a teenager, Ignatius lost both of his parents and began to live a worldly life as a page in the court of Ferdinand and Isabella. They were the Spanish king and queen who sponsored Columbus on his voyage.
After Ignatius turned 20, he became a soldier and was seriously wounded in battle. During his long, painful recovery,
he underwent a profound religious conversion.
Some time after his recovery, Ignatius set out on a pilgrimage.
Coming upon a beggar one night, he stripped off his nobleman’s clothes and exchanged them for the beggar’s filthy rags.
Then he spent the rest of the night in prayer before a shrine of Our Lady.
Eventually, Ignatius took up residence in a hillside cave.
There he spent long hours in prayer and penance.
Out of this experience came the inspiration that led him to found a religious order. It was an order of men who dedicated themselves to Jesus, in much the same manner that the twelve Apostles dedicated themselves to Jesus.
Ignatius called his order the Company of Jesus, or Jesuits.
Numbering over 20,000 men worldwide, it operates over 50 high schools and nearly 30 universities in the United States alone.
The spirit of Saint Ignatius is beautifully summed up
in his own Prayer for Generosity:
“Lord, teach me to be generous. Teach me to serve you as you deserve;
to give and not to count the cost;
to fight and not to heed the wounds;
to toil and not to seek for rest;
to labor and not to ask for reward, except to know that I am doing your will.’’
It is saints like Ignatius that we honor today.
Having said this, however, we must also utter a caution.
The exploits and accomplishments of saints like Ignatius of Loyola can get in the way of what a saint really is.
A saint is simply a person like ourselves who opened himself or herself to God’s grace in a generous way.
A saint is a living reminder that God’s grace can work miracles in us, if we but let it.
A saint is a dramatic illustration of God’s power at work in people’s lives—people like you and me.
The word saint comes from the Latin word sanctus,
which means “holy.’’ Literally, the word saint means
It recalls God’s command to the Chosen People:
“. . . keep yourselves holy, because I am holy.’’ Leviticus 11:44
Early Christians, like Saint Paul, referred to one another as “holy ones,’’ or “saints.’’ The New Testament uses the word
over 60 times in this sense.
With the passage of time, however, the word saint was reserved exclusively for those Christians who were martyred
or who had lived lives of remarkable holiness.
At first, a person was declared a saint by popular acclaim of those Christians who had seen the person martyred or who had witnessed the person’s holy life.
Beginning around the year 1000, however,
Pope John XV set up a more exacting process for declaring a person a saint. Called canonization, it involves a rigorous investigation of every aspect of the person’s life.
Today, the Church recognizes as “saints’’
thousands of men and women whose lives have mirrored,
in a special way, the holiness of God. It is these people whom we honor today.
They are simply people like ourselves who did ordinary things in an extraordinary way.
They are simply people like ourselves who took seriously Jesus’ invitation to love one another as he loved us.
They are living reminders that God’s grace can work miracles in us, if we but let it.
Let’s close with a prayer that summarizes the spirit of today’s feast. It is from the Preface of the Mass for Holy Men and Women. Addressed to God, it reads:
Father . . .
you are glorified in your saints,
for their glory is the crowning of your gifts.
In their lives on earth you give us an example.
In our communion with them, you give us their friendship.
In their prayer for the Church, you give us strength and protection. This great company of witnesses spurs us on to victory, to share their prize of everlasting glory.
Revelation 7:2–4, 9–14; 1 John 3:1–3; Matthew 5:1–12a
The courage and readiness to do what needs to be done.
Happy are those whose greatest desire is to do what God requires.” Matthew 5:6
Just before the Civil War broke out,
Katharine Drexel was born into one of the wealthiest families in America.
She was the youngest of three sisters. Her father was a successful banker and a partner of J. P. Morgan.
Many a weekday morning you would see him walking from his nearby office to Old Saint Joseph’s to attend Mass.
Katharine never knew her mother.
She died five weeks after her birth.
A year later, her father married Emma Bouvier.
Emma’s brother John was the great-grandfather of Jacqueline Bouvier, wife of President John F. Kennedy.
When Katharine’s father died in 1885, he established
a 14 million dollar trust for his three daughters. That was a lot of money in those days.
Katharine’s sister Elizabeth built an industrial school for boys
from destitute families.
Her sister Louise contributed substantially to the work of the Josephite Fathers in their work among African Americans.
Katharine supported Native American missions in 15 western states and territories
At the age of 29 Katharine made the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius to discern if she might be called to the religious life.
Her notes are still extent and reflect the honest thoughts of a practical, plain-spoken woman.
three objections were:
1. I have never been without luxuries.
2. Weariness and disgust might lead me to leave the convent.
3. I should hate to owe obedience to a woman whom
I felt to be stupid.
In the end,
she decided to become a religious, making her novitiate with
the Sisters of Mercy. In 1891 Katharine founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament.
Soon the order was funding and staffing some 100 schools
for Native Americans and African Americans in 25 disoceses.
Katharine died in 1955 at the age of 96.
She was beatified in 1988 and canonized in the millennium year 2000.
That brings us to the feast of All Saints.
The purpose of this feast is not only to pay tribute to saints
like Katharine Drexel,
but also to hold them up as reminders and as inspirations for ourselves.
First of all, they remind us of our own calling to be saints.
That is, we are called to live our lives in such a way that,
after death, we too will be welcomed into eternal life.
Second, Mother Drexel’s commitment to the truly needy of our society inspires us to reflect on our own commitment to those with whom Jesus identified himself so closely.
And so we are gathered here to celebrate the achievement of saints, like Mother Katharine Drexel, and to pray for the grace to emulate them.
Let’s close with these words of John Oxenham:
To everyone there opens a way—a high way and a low way.
The high soul takes the high way;
and the low soul takes the low way.
And in between on the misty flats, the rest drift to and fro.
But to everyone there opens a way—a high way and a low way.
And everyone decides the way his soul shall go. Slightly adapted
May all the saints who have gone before us
pray for each one of us that we may have the courage to choose the high way.