One of the strongest memories I have of All Saints’ Day is being annoyed. I know it might seem odd that I would have a vivid All Saints’ Day memory, but it is easily explained: My childhood friend, Tom, would always have a Slumber/Birthday Party on Halloween Night. Now, the problem was that I could not go because November 1st was All Saints’ Day and in the Roman Catholic tradition, that was a “Holy Day of Obligation.” For those of you who may not be familiar with this term, it meant that all good Catholics were to go to church on this day. And the problem was that it really ruined the slumber party when you had to be up and leave early to go to church. But, in my family, if it was a “Holy Day of Obligation,” then you were in church!
Of course, I would whine and try to get out of going, but my mom would not be budged. God was more important than any slumber party, so the slumber party always took second place. But I wanted to know WHY we had to go to church on All Saints’ Day. She explained that it was to thank God for all the Saints that God put into the world to show us how to be Good Christians.
Oh! We were going to thank God for Grandma! Grandma taught us how to be good Christians! And we were going to thank God for Sr. Vencita, she also taught us to be good Christians. (I was not old enough then to realize that I should thank God for my Mom and Dad, too, as thy were teaching us, in this very act of making us go to church, how to be good Christians.)
But I was to learn that this is not the case; on All Saints’ Day, we thank God for the REAL SAINTS, the saints that use capitals letters to call them “Saints” and have churches named after them. When we were to thank God for Grandma was on All Souls’ Day, the day after. This was the day we thanked God for all the nice people who have died but were not good enough to be considered Saints; and since this was not a “Holy Day of Obligation,” it was up to us to decide if we wanted to go to church or not.
This always seemed odd to me. I remember reading about some of the “Saints,” and really didn’t see how these people taught me about being a good Christian. They were doing things like dying of stoning for being a Christian and suffering from boils to proclaim the faith. And in my life, nothing like that ever happened. And if having people throw stones at you was what it took to be a “Good Christian,” then, quite frankly, I was pretty content to be a mediocre Christian.
You see, I think I was right! If a saint is someone who teaches us how to live our lives to be the best Christians we can be, then my Mom, my Dad, my Grandma, and even Sr. Vencita, did a better job than St. Stephen ever did. St. Stephen may have gotten stoned for his faith, but it was in seeing each of these people, living out their faith through their lives, that truly taught me what it meant to be a good Christian. These quite ordinary people were the ones who helped me to learn about the love of God.
For most of us, our faith is not something that is plopped down upon us, fully formed, from Heaven; it is something that is grown over time. It is something that we have nurtured by those, who, as I like to say, live their faith “out loud.” It is something that is planted and tended by those who live their faith in their lives.
I am willing to bet that each of you sitting here today is sitting here because of a saint in your life. You are here because your mother, father, grandma, grandpa, godparent, teacher, lived their faith through their life and challenged you to live out your faith too!
Faith is spread like dominoes. It started with God and is passed through people. Each person lives out their faith and passes it on to another. Just like dominoes toppling, one saint passes the love of God on to others who in turn pass that faith on even farther. Many of us are here today because Fr. Jerry passed his faith on to you. He lived his life of faith, passing God’s love on to those he met. And it was through him, and through the others in our lives that we find ourselves sitting here this morning.
I have given each of you a domino as a way of remembering and also as a challenge. When you look at this domino, I ask you to remember those who have passed their faith on to you. I ask you to remember the parents, the friends, the Sunday School teachers, the priests and deacons, all those people who have been important in your growth in faith. Whenever you look at this domino, I would ask you to thank God for those people who loved you and cared for you. Whenever you look at this domino, I would ask you to thank God for those who cared enough to spread the story of God to you.
But also, whenever you look at this domino, I ask you to be challenged. Are you sharing your faith with those around you? Are you nurturing the love of God in those whom you encounter on a daily basis? When you look at this domino, ask yourself if you are part of the chain that has started with God, and will pass on through the ages, or have you pulled yourself out and now there is an empty spot. I ask you to see this domino as a challenge to spread the faith that has nurtured and sustained you. I am asking you to be a saint in the world, just as others have been a saint to you!
If you feel so inclined, I also challenge you to share the story. I challenge you to take a domino and give it to someone who has been a saint to you! Give it to a person whose love and kindness helped you to learn what it meant to be a Child of God. Give it to the person whose unselfish act reminded you that there is more in the world than just the greed and self-centeredness we seem to be surrounded by. Give it to that person, and share with that person why he or she is part of the chain of faith, the Communion of Saints, that have made up your life. Give it to that person, and let him or her know that their love has changed you.
A final challenge I give you, especially you who are parents, is to take a domino and give one to each of your child and tell them how you have worked to nurture the love of God in each of their lives. Share with them the dreams you have for their lives and let them know the joy God has brought to you because of them. Give this domino to them the same way that I give it to you, as a reminder and as a challenge.
Today, we gather to thank God for the saints in our lives; the ones with the first name of “Saint,” but also the ones whose names begin with Mom, Dad, brother, sister, Father, Deacon, aunt, uncle, or friend. We gather to thank God for those who have shared their lives with us and in the process shared God with us. Today, we come to church, not because it is a “Holy Day of Obligation,” but because we wish to thank God and praise God for all the saints that God has placed into our lives. We thank God for those who helped us to make the hard decisions, the faithful decisions, even when we would have preferred to go to the slumber party or the soccer match. We thank God for those who taught us what it means to be good Christians in the world, not just mediocre Christians ruled by the world.
We gather today to give thanks for all the saints in our lives. We thank God for Fr. Jerry and all those who, like him, took the time to teach us and nurture us. We thank God for all those called to the table and those who may not yet feel welcome to the table. We join in thanks for all those who have gone before, and we gather to ask for the strength to continue the chain of faith and to be part of the Communion of Saints.
God has given us the gift of saints, and we are grateful! And now we are called and challenged to go out and become saints for others.