Sunday, November 03, 2013

Dismissing Sainthood

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
November 3, 2013

All Saints’ Sunday
Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18
Psalm 149
Ephesians 1:11-23
Luke 6:20-31

Dismissing Sainthood
            Over the past few days as we’ve marked All Saints’ Day on Friday and All Souls’ Day yesterday and getting ready for our celebration today, I’ve been thinking a lot about the saints in my life. As I mentioned in my homily at our service on Friday evening, I’ve been reflecting on – and giving thanks for – both the “Capital S” saints – the famous people whose holiness has been officially and widely recognized. You know, people like the Virgin Mary, St. Paul, and St. Francis
            And I’ve also been thinking about the “Small S” saints – the people I’ve encountered who have been saints in my life but whose holiness may only be known to a few people.
            I’m sure that most, if not all, of us have had those kinds of “Small S” saints in our lives – maybe a grandparent or some other relative, a friend, a neighbor, a teacher, or, who knows, maybe even a priest!
            All Saints’ Day is a day to give thanks for both those “Capital S” saints known by many and the “Small S” saints known to only a few.
            One of my Christian heroes is a woman who’s well on her way to becoming a “Capital S” saint. Her name is Dorothy Day.
            Maybe some of you have heard of her.
            She lived not too long ago, born in 1897 and dying in 1980 – within the lifetimes of many of us.
            Dorothy Day was actually baptized in the Episcopal Church but her family wasn’t religious and so she grew up outside of the church. As an adult she traveled in artistic and literary circles, seemingly uninterested in faith. It wasn’t until the birth of her daughter that she had a powerful conversion experience, leading to her becoming a Roman Catholic.
            But, she wasn’t just any Roman Catholic. She went on to co-found what’s called the Catholic Worker movement. She and her friends took the Gospel at face value. They were determined to respect the dignity of every human being, especially the poorest of the poor and the most outcast of the outcasts.
            During the Great Depression, the Catholic Workers set up houses in New York and elsewhere, serving meals to the poor and offering shelter to the homeless. Dorothy and the other Catholic Workers lived and worked among the people thy served.
            Taking Jesus at his word, and to the dismay of many of her friends and supporters, she opposed all war, even popular and “good” wars like World War II. She protested for civil rights, for the rights of farm workers, and against wars and our government’s vast military spending.
            Even people who disagreed with her on certain issues (and there were many!), recognized the sanctity, the holiness, of Dorothy Day.
            In and through her life, people saw glimpses of the Kingdom of God – the kingdom that Jesus reveals to us most clearly in the Beatitudes – which we heard in today’s gospel lesson.
            In and through Dorothy Day’s life, people glimpsed God’s kingdom – God’s kingdom where the poor, the hungry, the mourners, and the despised are truly blessed.
            In and through Dorothy Day’s life, people glimpsed God’s kingdom – God’s kingdom where we really do love our enemies, really do bless those who curse us and pray for those who abuse us.
            In and through Dorothy Day’s life, people glimpsed God’s kingdom – God’s kingdom where we give away all that we have to those who steal from us, where we give to every beggar, where we don’t ask for stuff back fro those who haven taken from us.
            In and through Dorothy Day’s life, people glimpsed God’s kingdom – God’s kingdom where people treat others the way they themselves would want to be treated.
            Since people glimpsed God’s kingdom in and through Dorothy Day’s life, it’s no surprise that even while she was alive there was a lot of talk that she was – or would be – a saint.
            And today, it’s pretty clear that the Catholic Church will officially canonize her, make her a “Capital S” saint, before long.
            Maybe it’s ironic, or maybe it’s another sign of her holiness, but she wanted no part of sainthood. In fact, one of her famous quotes is:
            “Don’t call me a saint. I don’t want to be dismissed so easily.”
            “Don’t call me a saint. I don’t want to be dismissed so easily.”
            People have puzzled over that, wondering what exactly she meant by it.
            “Don’t call me a saint. I don’t want to be dismissed so easily.”
            Do we easily dismiss saints?
            I think we do.
            Maybe in part because of artwork that tends to show saints as images of near-perfection, gazing blissfully up to heaven, we often dismiss saints as not really human like us. We dismiss saints as if they belong to a different species. We dismiss saints as not having the same kinds of challenges and fears and disappointments and doubts as we do.
            We dismiss saints as people to whom faith and sacrifice and service come easily.
            And, by dismissing saints as wildly different from us, of course we really dismiss ourselves - we let ourselves off the hook from even trying to be a saint.
            But, the truth is that saints are no more and no less human than we are.
            They face the same kinds of challenges and fears and suffer the same kinds of disappointments as we do. They doubt their choices and sometimes call out to a God who is painfully silent and seemingly absent.
            Reading about Dorothy Day, you hear stories about how she sometimes drove people up the wall because of her stubbornness and inflexibility. We can read in her diaries that she sometimes grew tired and disgusted by the endless need that surrounded her, the offensive smells, the dishonesty of the people she and the Catholic Workers served.
            Yet, what sets Dorothy Day and the other great saints apart, is that despite their challenges, disappointments and doubts, they kept going.
            And, so in and through their lives, even after they’re long dead, people glimpse – people continue to see – the kingdom of God.
            And that’s the kind of life that we challenged, frightened, disappointed and doubtful Christians are called to live.
            Next Sunday we’re going to have four – count ‘em – four baptisms. Giovanni, Chris, Precious, and Julian will take the plunge into the waters of baptism – will die and rise with Christ.
            And as we do at every Baptism we will renew our Baptismal Covenant.
            We’ll make those big promises to pray, to resist evil, to repent, to proclaim the Good News, to seek and serve Christ in all persons, to respect the dignity of every human being.
            Every time we say those words I think, wow, what a really tall order.
            Really we are promising, with God’s help, to try to be saints.
            As Christians we promise, with God’s help, to try to live in ways so that people will glimpse the kingdom of God in us.
            With God’s help – and together here it St. Paul’s – we can keep going.
            With God’s help – and together here at St. Paul’s - we can certainly be “Small S” saints and, who knows, maybe some of us can even be “Capital S” saints.