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Offers four real-life examples of sanctity
WASHINGTON, D.C. – His Excellency, the Most Reverend Timothy P. Broglio, J.C.D., Archbishop for the Military Services, preached the homily during noon Mass today at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on the occasion of All Saints’ Day.
Here follows the text of Archbishop Broglio’s homily:
The Solemnity of All Saints is truly our feast, because it is an occasion to honor the millions of ordinary men and women who heard the Word of God, responded in love, and accomplished what the Lord asked of them day in and day out. Sanctity is really the goal we have in common, but it is useful to ask what makes a saint. We usually think of those extraordinary responses, because they help us in our routine response and enlighten us in moments of trial.
Four examples might shed some light on the theme of an extraordinary response.
Father Thomas Conway was a priest from Buffalo who served as a Navy chaplain on the USS Indianapolis. The ship was torpedoed in the Philippine Sea and sunk. It was night and no other ship was nearby. Father spent the next three days and expended every ounce of his strength swimming from one surviving sailor to the next. He heard confessions, encouraged them, and tried to keep the flame of hope alive in their hearts. Remember it was at the end of the World War II and so many of those sailors would have been very young.
He could have just given up or tried to conserve his strength. Instead he was a man for others until death took him. He was the last Catholic Chaplain to die in that war.
There is a second chaplain whose life and death teaches us about today’s festival. Father Emil Kapaun, an Army chaplain from Pilsen, Kansas captured with many others by the Chinese in 1950. He did everything in his power to support the morale of his fellow prisoners of war. He met the spiritual needs of the Catholics, but was a counselor for all.
Their captors tried to brainwash them, kept them in horrible conditions, and fed them barely enough to live. Father Kapaun managed to steal extra food and also shared what little was given him with the others. Eventually, he was too weak to continue and was forced to stay in the infirmary where the primitive conditions hastened his early death. His cause for beatification is under way and two miracles have been attributed to his intercession. The investigation is not yet complete.
Another example is Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta. She was a Sister of Loreto, a religious woman doing excellent work as a teacher in India. She was already 46 years old when, inspired by Almighty God, she left her order and eventually established the Missionaries of Charity. 46 years old and she embarked on a new mission. No one expected that! She could have continued in her religious life, but she was open to divine grace, to the urgings of Christ, and she followed Him. Now the world knows about her, but essentially hers was a personal response to those Beatitudes we heard in the Gospel.
One final example is our recently canonized Lily of the Mohawks, Kateri Tekakwitha. Despite the pressure to conform to the ways of those around her, she remained faithful to her profession of faith. She was not afraid to go against the current and to stand up in the face of the majority.
Four examples of sanctity and three in the last 65 years! With the exception of Mother Teresa, they all died at a relatively young age. There are a host of others and we honor them all today.
That is really the sense of that extraordinary passage from the Book of Revelations, which we heard as the first reading. The last book of the Bible is fascinating, because it is written in a code. The primitive Christian community was experiencing persecution and had to be encouraged. While artists and fundamentalists have tried to express in images and interpret the passages, there really is only one way to read the texts. They must be de-coded and then recomposed. Today’s passage is a splendid example. Are only 144,000 sealed and saved? If that were the case, we should all go home, because there would be no hope for any of us.
The Sacred Author is telling us that the number of those sealed is numerous, beyond our ability to count. 12 is the number of the Tribes of Israel. Symbolically, it communicates the concept of fullness. 12 times 12 yields not merely 144, but a concept of the totality. Multiply that with 1,000, which for the ancients was a very large number. It is for us too: $, miles, days (more than three years of our lives), or a debt.
The message is one of hope. We cannot conceive of the numbers who will be saved by the power of divine love. Today’s celebration is one of hope and hope is what characterizes us as believers. As the Holy Father told us in Washington four years ago: people with hope lead different lives.
You and I bring that hope to the concrete situations we face. Those are always challenging. I think about that when I consider the situation of the men and women assigned to my pastoral care. Most of them are young and many are in harm’s way in faraway places.
If you are injured or if you experience the loss of a loved one in death, that pain suddenly makes the message of living the Beatitudes and salvation very real. The communion of the saints is no longer an abstract belief, but occupies an important place in my understanding right now. “We do know that when [what we shall be] is revealed we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” (1Jn. 3:2)
It is in the celebration of the Eucharist that we experience the presence of the whole Church, because it is a sacrifice not limited by the boundaries of time and space. In this sacrifice we are present with Jesus Christ on Calvary and the whole Church gathers with us: those still on pilgrimage, those between this life and the fullness of life, (remembered in a special way tomorrow), and those we honor today who already dwell in the presence of God. Remember that whenever you are present at Mass the whole Church is with you and you are with all of them.
Just five hours ago the Holy Father reminded us that “this feast invites us to reflect on the double dimension of humanity, expressed symbolically with the words ‘earth’ and ‘heaven’. Earth represents the walk through history and heaven eternity, the fullness of life in God.” (Pope Benedict XVI, Message at the Angelus, 1.XI.12.)
We celebrate the saints, because they teach us how to live, the way to make our earthly pilgrimage. We honor every man, woman, and child who has gone before us and now dwells with God, because they all show us the way to everlasting life. They are our closest relatives because they love us and intercede for us. Again Pope Benedict expressed it very succinctly: “In the spiritual realm everything belongs to everyone. There is no private property. The good of another becomes mine, and mine becomes his and attains healing power.” (Pope Benedict XVI, homily 2.XI.10.)
The great invitation of this Solemnity, especially in the Year of Faith is to give witness. Certainly, that takes many concrete forms in the good you do. Fundamentally, we are witnesses 24/7 by who we are and how we respond in every concrete situation. We form and build up the Body of Christ by how we live, the example we give, and the virtue we make manifest.
The world certainly does not believe the message of the Beatitudes. Its message is blessed are the rich, those who are powerful, those who are “happy”. Christ calls us to imitate His generosity, to be freed from the tyranny of possession, and to find true serenity in the peace of those values, which are intangible, but never wear out: honesty, loyalty, faith, hope, and charity.
We need courage to allow ourselves to be molded not by the world, but by the Beatitudes. Today reminds us that it is possible and so let us give thanks to Almighty God who calls us to holiness in this very moment.
Time passes, saints touch our lives directly and we learn about others. At the same time we have the opportunity to touch the lives of those we meet. As we honor all the Saints today and recall the example of others, we pray that we might be ever open to God’s will so as to be included in that number and dwell with God throughout all eternity.
Click to download audio of Archbishop Broglio’s homily, courtesy of WAOB Catholic Radio in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.