November 1, 2009
Today we celebrate the feast of All Saints. But who is a saint? Someone with a halo? Someone with hands always folded? Someone who looks good as a statue or on a holy card? Some saints meet those qualifications, but the number of saints is much larger than that.
Consider Margaret Breslan. Margaret is a single woman in her early 60’s. For the last 40 years she has taught the second grade. Through all those years she shepherded her students, not only through math and reading, but through tears on the first day of class, through colds and fevers, through the divorces of their parents, and through the hurt that comes from cruel classmates. Today former students come to visit Margaret, men and women, doctors, lawyers, and construction workers. They thank her for the love of learning that she instilled in their hearts at such an early age. They are grateful for the sense of confidence that she gave them through her discipline and care. Margaret Breslan is a saint.
Look at Matt Wilson. Matt is a young emergency paramedic in his late 20’s. His father died while he was still in grade school, and it gave Matt a deep sense of compassion for others. He brings that compassion to his work. When he’s called to a home with someone who is in grave danger, he skillfully diagnoses the problem and begins medical treatment. But Matt is also very conscious of the fear of his patients and their families. So he tries to take his time to explain what is happening and what can be done about it. And in those circumstances when there is nothing that can be done about it, when in fact the patient dies, Matt encourages the patient’s family to sit with the body for awhile and grieve. When there is only one person in the family who is left, Matt often sits with him or her, because he believes that death is not a time when anyone should be alone. Matt Wilson is a saint.
Look at Angela Tucci. Angela is one of seven brothers and sisters in a big Italian family. She makes it her business to know what is going on in the family. By e-mails and phone calls she stays in touch with all of her children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, great nieces and great nephews. When Angela senses any hint of dissention, when trouble begins to brew, she swings into action. She calls her nephew and says, “Anthony, your cousin Thomas is hurt because of what you said during the summer picnic. Call him. Make it right. Life is too short for grudges. Family is more important than your feelings.” Angela is often successful, because she has authority in her family. Everyone loves and respects Aunt Angela. Angela Tucci is a saint.
So is Mark Pestic. Mark is a seventh grader. He is on the football team, a good student, and a funny guy. He has lots of friends. But Mark does not just think of himself. He has already told Mrs. Bradley, the ninety-year-old widow on his street who is struggling to make ends meet, that he will shovel her walks this winter. And it is not uncommon for Mark to sit down at lunch with a classmate who has no friends, because Mark believes that no one should be excluded. Mark Pestic is a saint.
There are saints all around us. They come in all ages, genders, and occupations. Saints are those who make good happen in our world. What’s the difference between a good person and a saint? Not too much. Saints are good people seen from the perspective of faith. Through the eyes of faith, we see in others’ goodness something that points to God. Paul Tillich, the Protestant theologian says, “Saints are not so much saints because of their goodness, but because of their transparency. They point to something beyond themselves.” The evangelist Matthew says something very similar: “You are the light of the world. People will see your good actions and give praise to your heavenly father.” This is why Jesus in today’s gospel calls us blessed. People can see in our actions of gentleness, thirst for justice, peacemaking, and mercy, qualities which point to God, qualities that point beyond us to the source of all good.
We are surrounded by saints. Today we should give thanks for the people in our lives whose goodness leads us to God. Today we should recognize the goodness of the people around us and call them blessed. But even as we call them blessed, they call back to us. They call back from every time and place, their voices joining together in a mighty chorus. This is what they say: “It is right that you praise us for our goodness and how that goodness leads you to God. But it is not enough. Do not only praise us as saints. Be one.”