|Photo by: Doris Klein, CSA|
During World War II a German widow hid Jewish refugees in her home.
As her friends discovered the situation, they became extremely alarmed.
“You are risking your own well-being,” they told her.
I know that,” she said.
“Then why,” they demanded, “do you persist in this foolishness?”
Her answer was stark and to the point.
“I am doing it,” she said, “because the time is now and I am here.” (Source Unknown)
Today we celebrate the feast of all Saints - those known and unknown women and men, and even children - who are called holy because their lives manifested the very holiness of God. And we do this today because the time is now and we are here. These women and men are those who form “the great multitude of which no one can count, from every nation, race, people and tongue.”
In the early Christian Church the first saints were martyrs, virgins, hermits and monks who were declared holy by popular acclaim. Since the 16th century, when the modern saint-making process began, canonization was in the control of the popes and became a judicial process complete with evidence and cross-examination.
The person had to pass through a scrutiny of investigations and many proofs of miracles. Once proven, then an elaborate ceremony of canonization occurred. A feast day assigned, a Church and shrines were dedicated to the saint.
The person would be declared patron saint of a country, a diocese or other religious institutions. Statues and images would be struck, along with public prayers, relics venerated and possibly a Mass would be composed in the Saint’s honor.
In the times from these early centuries until now, those declared saints have contributed to God’s reign as artists, authors, founders/foundresses of religious orders, monks, martyrs, missionaries and mystics, bishops, popes, poets, peasants, and prophets, women and men religious, kings, queens, historians, and hermits, wives, husbands, reformers, scientists, theologians, teachers, virgins, children, widows, carpenters, shepherdesses and a thousand more paths in which these holy ones gave themselves as self gift.
They lived in times of turmoil and times of tranquility; they endured persecutions, wars, church councils, crusades, The Inquisition, the Protestant Reformation, the French Revolution, the Black Death, enemy occupation of their countries, and struggled with unjust government, church, and social systems.
We may tend today to think of Saints as holy and pious people, sometimes irrelevant to our experience and often shown in pictures with halos above their heads with ecstatic gazes or surrounded by angels or holding a symbol particular to their story.
But today – saints are men and women like us who live ordinary lives and struggle with the ordinary and extraordinary problems of life. What makes them saints is their clear and unwavering focus on God and God’s people. And so we may ask, who are the holy ones for us today? And what does holiness look like in our time and place?
Are we not all called to holiness by our very Baptism?
The time is now and we are here.
It can be said that holiness is conditioned by socio-cultural and religious factors. In the early centuries, the martyr paradigm certainly was a manifestation of God’s holiness. As one author remarks: "For centuries the church has presented the human community with role models of greatness. We call them saints when what we really often mean to say is 'icon,' 'star,' 'hero,' ones so possessed by an internal vision of divine goodness that they give us a glimpse of the face of God in the center of the human. They give us a taste of the possibilities of greatness in ourselves."- Joan D. Chittister in A Passion for Life
And so in our age, when there is renewed awareness of the suffering of innocent people through human trafficking, or through the exploitation of third world countries, or through the tragic systematic death of peoples by means of torture, famine, and genocide, or by results of violent rhetoric - then we can be sure that the saints will be those who lives are spent working tirelessly to alleviate the suffering.
Because the time is now and they are here.
In an age when Christians are often confronted to choose between life and death for the sake of the Gospel, the saints will boldly choose life through the cost of death. Because the time is now and they are here.
In an age when there is a clash between human dignity of all and the restrictive power of a few over all, the saints will name the injustice and call it social sin. Because the time is now and they are here.
In an age when there is an ecclesial restriction of gifts of the Spirit to some groups but not to others, the saints will witness to the freedom of the Spirit to give gifts as the Spirit chooses, regardless of restrictive laws about use of the gifts. Because the time is now and they are here.
In an age when discrimination, elitism, and oppression operate in society, in governments and in our Churches, the saints will again proclaim the reign of God and be "voice and heart, call and sign of the God whose design for this world is justice and mercy for all." (JD) Because the time is now and they are here.
Because the nature of sainthood is an incarnational reality, the shape and form of holiness may change from age to age and culture to culture. But the Spirit of the Holy will continue to call people like all of us who are here and those beyond our faith community –
to witness to the freedom of the Spirit;
to run, to risk, and wonder at our daring;
to boldly choose life through the cost of death; to confront the oppressors and marvel at our courage; and work tirelessly for the people of God as we proclaim God’s reign.
For it is God’s caring we witness and
God’s love we share because the time is now and we are here.