For All the Saints

“Saints are ordinary people who have done extraordinary things.”

So said, Sr. Caroline as I grew up and attended CCD classes at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church in the late 70s. Far be it from me to disagree with this lovely woman, but I think Saints are much more than that. They are ordinary people who do some extraordinary things, but mostly they are ordinary people who do ORDINARY things, but do them with great love, perhaps extraordinary love.

images-3Take Pedro Arrupe,S.J., one of my favorite Jesuits, who I believe is a saint, even if he is not officially recognized as one. In the horror of the Hiroshima bombings, Fr. Arrupe cared for the dying, the dying who did not die right away, but who suffered horrible burns from the madness of the atomic bomb. When he had cared greatly for the needs of so many and nursed them back to health, many simply died from radiation poisoning without much warning. Seeing those atrocities up close and caring for the needs of so many and continuing to be a priest and leading the Jesuits through the unchartered waters of the Second Vatican Council is enough for me to say that he did what some would consider extraordinary, but Arrupe would say that he did what was needed to be done—ordinary things with great love.

Campus Ministers I believe are in the saint-making business. We try to enable people to see themselves as doing whatever they are called to be, but doing that with great love. It frees people from the anxiety of possibly “missing their calling” and instead invites them to see the world with great love and trying to bring love to the work they do, even if they don’t think their job highlights their “first gifts.” I’m sure Fr. Arrupe didn’t think his first gift was running a triage unit in Japan, but he did it with great love. Sometimes circumstances indeed place us in the crosshairs of doing 3-4 things that we really would rather not do. Fr. James Martin, S.J. often talks about caring for elderly men in Jamaica and having to clean them and clip their nails was not something he looked forward to, but he did it with great love regardless.

What we as Campus Ministers need to do is to show students that including God in their vocational decisions invites them to ask the questions:

How does what I’m doing right NOW, make me more loving?
How might I be willing to change just a smidge to try to love better than I do?
Where do I see myself doing ordinary things with great love?
Where is God calling me to see my life in light of what makes me feel more alive with God’s love pouring out to others and to myself?

All good questions. To be saints means that we ask these questions and more importantly we LIVE this questions. We become all that we are, nothing more, but most importantly, nothing less.

But often we are afraid to be saints. Fear, as you know, is the opposite of faith. We’re also afraid to try to make saints–to awaken people to their best possibilities. It’s too hard, or too demanding, or even too tiring. There are other things we’d rather do. The truth is that life IS hard and we need to get over it. Doing the right thing is often a pain in the neck. But saints are able to do so because they know that doing this with love not only brings them great joy—but it also enables them to find God lurking there, pushing them just a bit harder on the journey to become all that they are.

It is time to begin a journey to sainthood. We do that by taking one step towards that goal each day in so many different walks of life. We do that by becoming all that we are.

And saints are not perfect. Rather saints admit that they are not God, not perfect and it leads them to do what they can—but to do that well and with love.

St. Peter became all that he was, even though he denied Jesus three times. St. Joseph was a simple carpenter called to take an unwed mother into his home and care for her and raise her son as his own, protecting the Son of God in an age where infant mortality and poverty took the lives of many. Dorothy Day housed the poor despite the fact that they made it difficult for her to treat them as Jesus would.

And some days it’s just hard to get up in the morning and get to the office when we know it’s going to be a difficult day–a challenging day. But God calls us to think more of ourselves, to know that we are indeed gifted and talented and have some opportunities to make a difference.

In doing so we become saints in the making. And when we unite with the divine in the beatific vision beyond this life, we will find it was more than enough.

More than enough for the world, more than enough for God and more than enough for us in becoming all that we are called to be.

So today is our day, All Saints. Let us celebrate who we are and enjoy being ourselves, but most importantly, let us love, even when it is challenging.

Your Favorite Saint…

Since it is all Saints Day I started to reflect on my favorite saints today and Fran from the Parish Blog of St Edwards had asked the same question of people on facebook. Paul Snatchko made a good point about it’s like picking your favorite child–you just can’t do it.

But I’d like to focus on two…

St Ignatius of Loyola is certainly one saint who has been a great influence on my life, not only because of his great intellectual contribution to the church but because he wanted his followers to be “contemplatives in action.”

Ignatius, a gallant soldier who was wounded and who had a profound conversion while recovering wanted his followers to be “men for others (and today we would add women to that mix).” So instead of locking themselves away in a monastery and praying the liturgy of the hours for the world, Ignatius wanted to be different. He wanted to maintain that prayerfulness while having his followers interact with the world.

That’s the real part of Ignatian spirituality that is attractive to me–being in the world but yet being a person of prayer. As a spiritual director, I hope that I can help people see God working in their everyday life.

The Spiritual Exercises resulted from that initial experience of being in the world. In particular, the Examen of Consciousness, a daily review of our actions focused on grace and thankfulness to God, became a maxim for the Jesuits who found it too difficult to keep up with the monastic liturgy of the hours due to the demands of the world being so great. Ignatius bound them to do the Examen daily, especially if they had no prayed at all that day. It is something that I often do in my own life. I try daily, usually when walking the dog or late a night after my wife has retired before I join her in bed. But thanks to the good St Ignatius I have been educated and continue to connect with God in my daily life–a great reminder and a great gift for us all.

I have a superficial but yet profound reason for liking St Ignatius: he’s bald! Folks say I resemble him–but it’s when I pray that they mention this.

Because when I pray, I cry.

Tears flow easily when I pray. I can’t explain it and I no longer am embarrassed by them. The tears are signs of the spirit and that God and I are intimately connecting, most of the time through others but sometimes in quiet and stillness too. This is something that Ignatius was in touch with as well. He called it the gift of tears and in fact, he said we should pray to be so moved in prayer. I often would say that if it is a gift I’d like to give it back. But now, I would not exchange it for the world. Because it is an expression of my soul. Thank you, Father Ignatius.

The second is St Joseph–the foster father of Jesus. In many ways he is the saint of the short shrift. We don’t know much of Joseph. We know he was an artisan of some sort, a tradesman who worked with his hands. Traditionally we used the word carpenter to describe him but he held a more intricate position than that some scholars say.

He reminds me of my own father, an unskilled laborer who worked for a living in helping his family make ends meet. Often my dad didn’t get enough credit for all he did for us and as he has aged, I’m starting to appreciate that more and more.

It is no surprise that I have ended up at a parish named after St Joseph with an Ignatian college not far away as well. The best of both worlds as far as I can see. Our Pope Benedict is also a Joseph, his given name and his papacy thus far holds the same promise that I think Joseph must’ve felt at the prospect of fostering Jesus: a daunting responsibility but also an anticipation of the great prospect of what lies ahead. We also tried adopting at one point and while it didn’t quite work out the way I would’ve liked, I learned so much about my own gifts and responsibilities and got in deep touch with St Joseph’s experience.

Joseph for me is all about anticipation. And anticipation often means that we remain in the tension of not knowing what comes next. Joseph presumably died before he could see the promise of the resurrection–a common motif amongst prophets and other searchers. But the fact that Jesus and Mary lived a long time when both poverty as well as infant and child mortality was extremely high in their culture points towards Joseph’s care and contribution for his family. He is a saint that the working class should come to love and resonate with especially in today’s economic climate.

So today let us pray to our favorite saints for they hold something personal and special for us all.

Who’s your favorite saint? And how have you connected with him or her so intimately?

Thanks to Chantal Stain Glass patterns for the pic of St Joseph.