Saints are us

“Everyone is invited to the heavenly banquet, everyone is welcome. But the decision to come is yours. Get ready though, for it is not just the party of the season, or the century; this is the party of eternity.”

Carville.pdf

I found this wonderful quote in a notebook I keep of ideas for future columns. Unfortunately, I didn’t write down who said or wrote it. But my thanks to author unknown.

It set me to thinking about the feast we recently celebrated, The Feast of All Saints. This year, the Nov. 1 feast day fell on a Sunday. Because of COVID-19 there was no obligation to attend Sunday Mass and because of social distancing our churches cannot accept too many congregants who would like to attend. Therefore, many probably did not attend Mass unless your attendance was virtual via computer or live television. However, since we live in the southern, more Catholic half of Louisiana, I bet many did honor their family obligation on the following day, Nov. 2, of cleaning their family’s graveyard plot, perhaps bringing some flowers to place on the tombs and saying a few prayers.

Somehow, we feel more comfortable about praying for our dead on All Souls Day than on All Saints Day. We may think that they led good lives and are in heaven, or at least in purgatory and well on the way to rise higher. But do we really think of mom and dad, grandmother and grandfather, brothers and sisters now deceased, as saints? And heaven forbid we would never think of ourselves or any living relatives and friends as saints.

Don’t we begin every Mass by asking God’s mercy and forgiveness and then repeat that same plea three times before we dare to receive Christ’s presence in the Eucharist? “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world have mercy on us.”

We know we aren’t saints.

But St. Paul was not of the same opinion. When he wrote to the many churches he founded he very often addressed the members of those communities as saints. That doesn’t mean that any of them were perfect and never sinned. He was very proud of the Christian community in Corinth, Greece. Yet he rebuked them and told them that he shed a lot of tears over them. Corinth was one of the principle seaports in Greece. Its residents were often guilty of all the sins that seaports everywhere are known for. St. Paul himself knew and confessed in his own writings that until his conversion on the road to Damascus he had been a sinner and a great persecutor of Christians. He complains in some of his letters that he still cannot do what he knows he should be doing. Yet, he was certain that he had done what he could, fought the good fight and Jesus would welcome him to heaven.

What gave St. Paul such confidence, confidence that he wants us to have? St. Paul says that it is the Spirit of God in him, the same Spirit he says that is in all of us. To the Ephesians he writes, “There is one God and father of all, who is over all … and in all” (Eph 4:6). God is with us, in us always, not just some of us, all of us. He never abandons us, even despite our sins. He is always inviting us to his banquet, sacramentally in this life and forever in the next. We just have to accept his invitation in actions as well as words. St. Paul explains further in his first letter to the Corinthians, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple” (1 Cor 3: 16-17).

Strong words, amazing reality. This isn’t a “wish it were true” kind of statement. St. Paul repeats the same statement three chapters later and then goes on to rebuke the Corinthians because of their sexual sins and misuse of the Eucharist. He continues to call them saints because God is still with them even though by their sins they try to flee him.

We should remember that Jesus told his disciples that he didn’t come to call the just but also sinners. We are his targets for salvation, the sinners all, for whom he died. But God will not allow the sin that killed his son to win out. He raised him from death to live eternally. That is the good news of our lives too.

So, Happy Feast Day that you didn’t celebrate this year! COVID-19 can keep us out of church. It can even kill us. But it can’t keep us from being saints with the risen Lord, now and forever.

Deo gratias!

Father Carville is a retired priest in the Diocese of Baton Rouge and writes on current topics for The Catholic Commentator. He can be reached at johnnycarville@gmail.com.