Rejoice and be glad, for great is your reward in heaven! (Mt 5:12)
Today, the Church celebrates all the saints: canonized or beatified, and the multitude of those who are in heaven enjoying the beatific vision that are only known to God. The actual number of saints is impossible to calculate. One well-known work called “Lives of the Saints” lists 2,565 Catholic saints, but that doesn’t count thousands of others celebrated in local regions all over the world. The Catholic Church has a feast, All Saints’ Day, on November 1 to honor the countless saints who aren’t formally canonized.
Who are the saints? They were the ordinary people like you and me; yet people who lived extraordinary lives. Here are some inspiring stories of some saints.
- PERPETUA AND FELICITY: Perpetua was a 22-year-old noble and Felicity was her slave. The two women were persecuted for their Christian beliefs in Roman-owned Carthage while Perpetua was breastfeeding and Felicity was pregnant. Perpetua documented their tortures, and her writings are the earliest surviving text written by a Christian woman.When they were tried, Felicity was exempted from the death penalty because she was pregnant. Two days before they were to be put to death, though, she gave birth, allowing her to be martyred with her friends and loved ones.On the day of their execution, the women were first whipped and then led into an amphitheater, where they were to be torn to pieces by a wild cow. The animal brutalized them, but they were not killed. They were then to be put to death by the blade of a sword. Felicity’s execution went smoothly, but Perpetua’s executioner’s hand slipped and pierced between her bones, failing to kill her. Perpetua then grabbed the man’s hand and guided the sword to her own neck. It was later said that she was so great a woman she could not be slain unless she herself willed it.
- SYMEON THE STYLITE: Fasting for a few days is difficult for even the most dedicated religious observer, but Symeon Stylites brought fasting and silent worship to a whole new level. In fact, Symeon was kicked out of the first monastery he joined after he abstained from food and water throughout Lent until he completely passed out. He then spent a year and a half in a small hut, where he again went without eating and drinking for all of Lent. When he emerged from the hut alive, it was considered a miracle.After leaving his hut, Symeon moved to a small cave that was less than 20 meters in diameter. He sought solitude at the cave, but crowds of pilgrims began gathering outside the cave, seeking his counsel and prayers. Symeon felt he didn’t have enough time to dedicate to his worship, so he then moved onto a 13-foot-tall pillar in Syria.While living there, his only sustenance came from boys in the village who would climb up the pillar and provide him with bread and milk. Throughout the next 39 years, he continually moved up to higher and higher pillars. Eventually, his last pillar was over 50 feet tall. Keep in mind that this was in Syria, where the weather can range from over 100 to -50 degrees Fahrenheit.Symeon eventually passed away on his pillar. After his death, many other worshipers followed his example and, for a while, seeing Christians living atop a pillar was a common sight in Syria. These days, Symeon still holds the Guinness Record for longest pole sitting session.
- POPE CLEMENT I: Like many Christians of the Roman era, Clement was prosecuted for his beliefs. In fact, he was banished from Rome and forced to serve in a stone quarry in Russia. Upon arriving, Clement discovered the prisoners were being denied water and were dying of thirst. He then saw a lamb on a hill and struck the ground where the lamb stood with his pick axe, releasing a gushing stream of water. The miracle resulted in many of the prisoners immediately converting to Christianity. As a punishment for this deed, the soldiers working at the mine tied Clement to an anchor and threw him from a boat into the Black Sea.When Clement’s followers went to recover his body, the sea drew back three miles and Clement’s remains were discovered to already be enclosed in a stunning shrine. On the anniversary of the date every year after, the sea would again pull back and reveal his shrine. One year, a woman’s son got stuck in the shrine after the sea rolled back in. A year later, the boy was discovered to be completely unharmed, still asleep in the shrine.Eventually, Clement’s bones were removed; they are now enshrined in the Basilica di San Clemente in Rome.
- AGATHA OF SICILY: Agatha was a virgin who dedicated herself to God. Unfortunately, a Roman prefect named Quintianus set his lustful eyes on her. When she rejected his advances, she was persecuted, first by being thrown into a brothel. When even a stint in the brothel didn’t change her mind, Quintianus ordered Agatha’s breasts be cut off. He refused her any medical treatment, but when Agatha was in her cell, she saw a vision of Saint Peter, who restored her breasts and healed her wounds.Eventually, Quintianus ordered Agatha be put to death by being rolled naked across a bed of hot coals. While she was being tortured, an earthquake suddenly occurred and the walls collapsed, killing two men, both of whom had played a major role in her torture. Agatha was then returned to her cell, where she died from her wounds.
- SAINT SEBASTIAN: Sebastian originally hid his Christian beliefs from the Romans so that he could work as a prison guard and allow people to visit their relatives who were imprisoned due to their beliefs. When he did come forward about his faith, he was exceptionally convincing—to the point that he even ended up converting the local prefect and his son, who wound up becoming a saint himself. Sebastian also converted another local official and his wife, Zoe, who hadn’t spoken for the last six years. After Zoe became a Christian, though, her speech was suddenly returned to her. The prefect was so moved by Sebastian’s words and actions that he set all the Christian prisoners free from jail and resigned his position of power. The new prefect was not so easy to convert. He was enraged by Sebastian’s actions and ordered him to be executed by a squad of archers. The archers loaded Sebastian with arrows and then left him for dead. When one of his followers went to find his body to bury it, she discovered he was still alive. The woman nursed him back to health. As soon as he recovered, Sebastian went before the emperor and condemned him for his treatment of Christians. The emperor accordingly had him beaten to death by his guards and thrown in the city sewers. An apparition appeared to a local Christian widow telling her that Sebastian’s body could be found in a nearby field, completely undefiled. Because he was believed to have been killed by the archers and then went on to be killed by the same emperor, Sebastian is often referred to as the saint who was murdered twice.
As we look to the lives of saints, we are reminded that we are all called to be saints. Every single one of us. We are called to be witnesses to the faith in charity and peace. We are called to be light to the world. There are many saints known to God that aren’t officially known to us people. Not all saints are canonized. There are many who we don’t know of who were never canonized, so canonization of saints doesn’t really mean that if someone isn’t canonized they aren’t a saint. I think canonization is just a way of saying “we know 100% that this person is a saint!” while with other people we maybe 95% sure or 80% sure.
There are many living saints amongst us right now that we do not know of, simply because it isn’t part of God’s will for them to be revealed to us. So it’s always good to love your neighbor, not only because we are called to do so, but also because you never know when you are talking to a saint! There are many “fools for Christ” and other sorts of people out there that unless God makes them known to us people, we would never know of their saintliness and just think of them as crazy or really really weird! There are many saintly people out there within our ordinary lives who are full of virtue and love the Lord very much. Such people come and go and are not canonized as saints but are considered saints by God, I believe. I think being a saint is also another way of saying that this person lived a God-pleasing life and is most definitely in heaven.
People around us who are noble, helpful, cheerful, and virtuous may not be Saints yet, but I know they are striving wholeheartedly to the throne of grace.
Proverbs 13 reminds us that we become like those whom we spend time with. Who are the modern day saints in your life? Who do you spend your time with? How can you become a modern day saint?
He who walks with wise men will be wise, But the companion of fools will suffer harm. Proverbs 13:10
Catholics believe a saint is someone who lived a holy life and who’s already in heaven. Saints are considered role models for people still on Earth, and are capable of interceding with God on someone’s behalf when a request for help is made in prayer.
In the First Reading, John had a vision of a huge number of people, impossible to count, from every corner of the earth, singing God’s praises in heaven.
In words full of wonder, John reminds us in the Second Reading that we are really God’s children.
In today’s Gospel, the beatitudes or the sermon on the Mount lay down for us the road map to a life of holiness. A saint is one who is faithful in all circumstances, one whose identity is not shaken by the daily circumstances, the ups and downs of life.
The Beatitudes stress the following values:
—- To be poor in spirit requires a humble recognition that one’s life must be lived in radical dependence on the goodness and providence of God.
—- Mourning is a dying to ourselves for others to live, that we rise to new life and to the fundamental meaning of dying and living in Christ.
—- True meekness comes from the gentleness of spirit in a person united with God, who is filled not only with the passion to right the wrong but also the compassion to offer renewal to the wrongdoer.
—- The deepest hunger and thirst of the humble heart is the realization of the righteousness of God in justice.
—- Mercy means more than pity. It is an action which entails the movement of one’s heart for the suffering of others in a true and genuine caring for them.
—- To be pure of heart is to center one’s life on God through one’s concern and compassion for others.
—- Peace is founded on love, justice and truth. When one of these human values is violated, peace is not attained.
—- A suffering born of love and commitment is a suffering which is truly united with the suffering of the Crucified Christ. (Fr. Amar Capuchin, Bahrain)
We are saints, that fact is made real in baptism. A saint is not someone who by his or her own reason and strength has achieved greatness. Rather, a saint is someone whom God has declared a saint by his grace in Baptism. When we are baptized into Jesus Christ, we are given a brand new perspective on reality – a reality quite different than the reality of the world. The world tells us that only the rich, the self-satisfied, the happy, and the popular are those who are blessed. “Nonsense!” replies Jesus, “You are blessed because I say you are blessed. You are blessed no matter what external conditions prevail in your life, because it is God, and not the world, with the final word about who you really are.” You are baptized, you are saints, may your life reflect this reality.
We only have one life to live, and it is good to consider what God’s will is for us. We know that the man/woman who serves himself is little more than a slave to his own passions, and that whatever his deeds, they are of no benefit to him. On the other hand, the man who serves God accomplishes his own salvation, and participates in something much greater than himself, and the actions of his life have lasting value!
We must keep our eyes on heaven, and do our duty diligently. One day we will have finished our race, and if we are successful, we shall be happy throughout all the ages of eternity. We must take the opportunity now, while we live, to struggle heroically against our enemies – the world, the flesh, and the devil, to achieve the reward we seek. Let us therefore strive to accomplish great things for Christ!
That is the good news we share this day with all the saints on earth and all the saints in heaven, with all the saints who have gone before us and all the saints who will come after us. We rejoice this day in the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. We rejoice that God has called us to sainthood and for having given us a totally new way of looking at life, a way which turns out, in fact, to be the only way there is.
Our calling to divinity is at the very heart of our celebration today. May the Eucharistic Lord, nourish and strenghten us to be faithful to our calling and help us turn every obstacle into opportunities to be a passsionate about God as the saints are. Amen.
All the saints in Heaven, Pray for us;
All the unknown saints on earth, Pray for us!
Fr. Gaspar Fernandes, OFM Cap.