Homily for the Vigil of All Saints

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Homily for the Vigil of All Saints

Cecilia Olson, OSB | October 31, 2021

Many of us have seen or heard of the television series “The Chosen.” There are many scenes that have touched me, but one in particular has stayed with me – the call of Matthew. It’s not really so much the call itself, but Jesus’ response to Peter. Jesus is walking down a street in Capernaum along with the disciples that have already said “yes” to following Him – Peter, Andrew, James, John and Mary Magdalene. As they go by the tax collector’s booth, Jesus glances at Matthew, and then continues on, but after a few steps he stops, turns, heads back towards Matthew and calls him by name: “Matthew”!  Shocked that Jesus would speak to him, Matthew says: “Yes?”  Jesus says: “Follow Me.”  Now even more shocked, Matthew says:  “Me?”  Jesus smiles and says: “Yes, you!”  Standing alongside Jesus is a very confused Peter who looks at Jesus and says: “Whoa! What are you doing? Do you have any idea what this guy has done?” Jesus simply says: “Yes.” Peter shakes his head in frustration and says: “I don’t get it.” Jesus replies: “You didn’t get it when I chose you either, Peter.”  Still irritated, Peter says:  “But this is different. I’m not a tax collector.” Jesus looks tenderly at Peter and says: “Get used to different.”

Those words “get used to different” have stayed with me; to borrow the word Esther used a few weeks ago with the gospel of the rich young men, these words have haunted me-  in a good way. I thought about what those words mean for me and decided that the answer is very simple – it’s right there in the Gospels.  For Jesus, “different” means believing and honoring the worth of each person, no matter who they are or where they are from or what they have done or haven’t done; forgiving 70 times 7 times;  giving witness that real happiness has nothing to do with possessions or recognition or power; reaching out to the sufferings of others; recognizing that our neighbor is the one next to us, but also the poor, the lonely, the forgotten; living with hope despite the darkness that at times we feel is wrapped around us for we know that Jesus is risen!

The Gospel of this feast, the Beatitudes, leaves no doubts that following Jesus demands a different way of thinking and living. Our compassionate Pope Francis says: “This Gospel says, ‘Blessed are the poor,’ while the world says, ‘Blessed are the rich.’ This Gospel says, ‘Blessed are the meek,’ while the world says, ‘Blessed are the bullies.’ This Gospel says, ‘Blessed are the pure of heart,’ while the world says, ‘Blessed are the cunning and pleasure-seekers.’

The glorious multitude of saints, those canonized and those each of us has known personally – our deceased relatives, friends and sisters in this community – they understood and lived what “get used to different” means.  We might have a tendency to put saints on a pedestal, thinking that we could never be like them, but saints are not born saints. They started out like you and me; they struggled with weaknesses, temptations, failures, disappointments and doubts, but they also remained open to the mystery of God’s life within them and when that awareness of the unconditional love of God became central, they were compelled to respond.   We admire these marvelous witnesses of the Gospel, but more than that, let us find strength and encouragement in our own journey of faith for they prove in both large and small ways that fragile and weak human beings, when responding to God’s grace, can make a difference.

In writing about the Beatitudes, Benedictine Sister Verna Holyhead says: “this gospel is dangerous, more like a high-powered motorboat that carries us into deep waters of discipleship.”  We may not consider ourselves risk-takers, but if we embrace this Gospel and the whole of Jesus’ teachings and parables and example of keeping company with saints and sinners, then we too must be risk-takers. The Gospel is not for the faint-hearted. It was the measuring rod for the saints and so it is for us who live the monastic life. St. Benedict reminds us of this in his Prologue: “clothed them with faith and the performance of good works, let us set out on this way with the Gospel for our guide….”

As we celebrate this festival of faith and honor that glorious multitude of saints in heaven, may it move us to reflect again on our desire to build the Kingdom of God here on earth. And we are doubly blessed in that desire for on this earthly pilgrimage we are not alone. We have the privilege and the responsibility to support and encourage one another as together we go deeper into the waters of discipleship, as we “get used to different.”  There is no doubt that we have great cause to “Rejoice and be glad for ours is the Kingdom of God!”