Homily for All Saints Day
November 1, 2018
Cheering Us On
When I was younger, my dad was an avid runner. He even ran a couple marathons, and my family went down to cheer him on during the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, DC. Thirty-thousand people run this marathon every year, and it was quite amazing to be at the end of the run. My family visited several spots along the race course, but I remember standing near the end, maybe mile 23 or so, and cheering people on. By that point in a marathon, the people look like living zombies, their tongues hanging out in exhaustion, their feet dragging, sweat drenching their clothes, their eyes half-closed as they stumble along. But it must have been encouraging for those runners to see all the cheering fans! We were surrounded in a thick crowd of supporters, all shouting encouragement for the runners as they dragged their half-dead bodies onward toward the finish line.
And this is often how I view the saints. They are our cheering squad, as we continue to “run the race” towards the finish line of Heaven. Our journey of faith is a marathon effort – every single day, getting up in the morning resolved to follow the Lord Jesus.
The difference is that these saints aren’t just on the sidelines; they have already run the race of faith before us. They know how tough it is – what saint is there who didn’t suffer and struggle? All of them had their weaknesses, their failings, their physical pains, their rejection – but they conquered all of those things through the grace of Christ, and are now cheering to us, “Come on! You can do it! Keep going, keep your eyes on Jesus!”
Because, let’s be honest, the Gospel demands something of us! To pick up our cross and follow Him, to love Him more than father and mother and friends, to trust Him and reorganize our life so that He is the number-one priority – all of this is really tough, and we would likely get discouraged if not for the saints. The saints show us that, though holiness is difficult, it is not impossible. Holiness has been lived by people just like you and me. And if they can do it, so can we!
In Spain in the 1500s lived a soldier by the name if Inigo. He was a vain man, concerned about his looks and impressing the ladies, and was full of pride for his great military accomplishments. In one particular battle, he took a cannonball to the leg, shattering the bones. For the next couple months he was laid up recuperating, but when they took the cast off, it turned out that his healed leg was two inches shorter than his regular leg! Concerned that it would make him a bad dancer and unpopular with his lady friends, he asked the doctors to re-break his leg…without anesthesia! So they did so, and once again he was laid up in bed, recovering.
While recovering, he asked for some books to read, having nothing better to do. He was used to reading romance novels and tales of knighthood, but this particular hospital was run by an order of nuns who didn’t have any of those types of books. They only had a book about Jesus and the Lives of the Saints. Inigo was so bored that he reluctantly accepted these books, and began to read. All of a sudden, his life began to change. He read about St. Francis and St. Dominic, and began to consider, “What if I lived like they lived? What if I did what they did?” This thought began to take hold – that it was possible for him to become holy, even after the worldly life he had led. When finally released from the hospital, he made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, where he consecrated his life to the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Lord Jesus. He ended up starting the Jesuit religious order and is now best known as St. Ignatius of Loyola.
And it all started because he discovered that holiness was possible – saints had lived it! And if St. Joan of Arc and St. Patrick can do it, if St. Isaac Jogues and St. Therese of Lisieux could do it, why not you? They are no different from us – they had flesh and blood, temptations and struggles, joys and sorrows.
So now it is our turn. The world needs St. John Smith, and St. Jane Doe – men and women of the twenty-first century who are the saints of the next generation.
Because we are not running this race alone. No, we are surrounded by a great crowd of men and women and children who have successfully finished this race before us and are rooting us on. “Keep going!” they say. “Keep your eyes on Jesus! Don’t give up! Holiness is possible!”