Friday, August 26, 2016

Mass of the Holy Spirit - August 25, 2016

The Mass of the Holy Spirit is a tradition at Jesuit schools and universities throughout the world dating back to 1548, when the initial Mass was celebrated at the first Jesuit school in Messina, Sicily. We share here the homily for this year's Mass of the Holy Spirit, delivered by Fr. Steve Schoenig, SJ, associate professor of history.

This academic year is beginning with a very good omen for us at SLU:  our Mass of the Holy Spirit happens to fall on the solemnity of Louis IX, king of France in the thirteenth century and patron saint of our city and our university.  This warms my heart, as a medieval historian who teaches History 1110, which some call the brightest gem in the crown of our curriculum.  In that survey course, which stretches from cavemen to Columbus, I always talk about Louis—if only to explain that he was not, in fact, the inventor of toasted ravioli and provel cheese.  (Likewise, his mother, Blanche de Castile, whose name means “White Castle,” had nothing to do with sliders.)  But now I have something more substantial to say, because I had the opportunity this summer to visit Louis’ original city, Paris.  It’s no St. Louis, of course, but it has its charms, among which is the royal chapel Louis built:  the unforgettable Sainte-Chapelle.  Maybe some of you have seen it.  Louis had it constructed in 1248 to house the collection of relics he had acquired, most notably the Crown of Thorns itself.  As I climbed the spiral stairway leading up into this amazing building, the young woman ahead of me, apparently an American, stepped out into the chapel and, despite all the signs calling for quiet, cried out, “Holy”—and then a word I can’t repeat in church.  I can sympathize with her:  it is truly awe-inspiring.

The walls of the Sainte-Chapelle are vast sheets of multicolored stained glass that surround you on all sides, so that you have the feeling you’re standing in a jewel box—literally, a box made of jewels.  As the sun pours in, the whole chapel is filled with a blaze of beauty, a riot of light and color that dazzles the eye.  This overpowering impression is formed from thousands of small glass bits, each one different in size and shape and hue, each one catching the sunlight at a slightly different position and angle.  Yet the same light shines through them all, and together they form row upon row of pictures—scenes that tell the story of salvation, from Genesis to Revelation, from the Old Testament patriarchs to the life of Christ to the history of the Crown of Thorns’ arrival in Paris.  I spent two hours walking back and forth, taking in this spectacular sight.  And it hit me that God works in a similar way.  Each of us has our own size, shape, and hue, but one sun enlightens us all, and the one bath of sunlight streaming down—call it the Holy Spirit—surrounds us, penetrates us, shines through us to create a stunning panorama telling a story.  Each of us refracts the rays in our own manner, but instead of chaos or cacophony, the result is beauty and harmony.  Yes, some pieces of glass may be chipped or cracked, but the power of the light overwhelms all defects, and the overall effect is never dimmed.

But you don’t have to go to Paris to experience such a radiant display.  Another thing I do in History 1110 is offer the students a tour of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, a mile west down Lindell Boulevard.  This monumental Byzantine-style church, the world’s largest collection of mosaics, makes a similar impact.  Forty-one and a half million gold, glass, and marble tiles in more than seven thousand colors cover 83,000 square feet of wall and ceiling and arch and dome, each slightly off-kilter from the others so that the light catches every one differently, with the result that the images sparkle and glitter.  Those images coalesce to depict the great mysteries of the faith and how they have played out in the world, including not only creation, redemption, and the end of time, but also the life of Louis IX and the history of our local church.  (There’s even a mosaic, high up on the left, of Saint Louis University!)  One arch, left of the main dome, portrays God the Father, out of whose bosom comes the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove.  Branching off from this dove are seven angels bearing seven smaller doves, the seven gifts of the Spirit mentioned in Scripture—wisdom, understanding, good counsel, knowledge, fortitude, piety, and wonder.  And below them, filling both legs of the arch, are a company of saints, great teachers on one side and great missionaries on the other—all those who, inspired by the Spirit, spread the Good News through their words and labors.  It’s as if the mosaics are telling us:  a dove is just a symbol, but if you really want to see the Holy Spirit, you have to look at its action in particular people’s lives and loves.

That’s why I’ve always treasured the lives of the saints in the Catholic tradition.  These men and women are wildly different in background, personality, interests, talents, achievements, and yes, faults.  But like the tiles in the cathedral, or the pieces of glass in the Sainte-Chapelle, they caught the light of the Spirit and allowed it to use them to form something beautiful that became part of the story of salvation.  In fact, the light is rendered more brilliant by being transmitted and reflected in so many different ways, like the facets of a sparkling gem.  And that’s why it’s wonderful that our Mass of the Holy Spirit falls on this feast of St. Louis.  Louis himself shows us the Spirit, in one particular way, through a life dedicated to nobility, justice, courage, and piety.  As I tell my students, Louis was considered the ideal king in the Middle Ages:  not a ruler who lorded it over his subjects, or exploited them, or claimed to be divine, but rather a servant who took seriously his special responsibility to look out for those who had no one else to look out for them—the poor and powerless, widows and orphans, the vulnerable and oppressed.  In a world without a social safety net, this God-given duty was essential.

That’s why our readings describe the life of virtue that Louis demonstrated for us.  The first reading talks about releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke, setting free the oppressed, sharing bread with the hungry, bringing the homeless into your house, clothing the naked, not turning your back on the afflicted.  These are works of the Spirit.  It’s not how we typically imagine medieval kings, but it’s what they hoped for themselves.  Dedication to social justice is not a modern invention.  And, in this election year, this description of a just ruler is something our own politicians ought to keep in mind.  The second reading adds a few more virtues:  compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, living in love and promoting peace.  Louis impressed his contemporaries as such a person.  Don’t get me wrong:  he wasn’t perfect.  His dedication to crusading, even though his motives were pure, is sometimes a source of embarrassment nowadays, and his anti-Jewish measures make us cringe.  Failings cannot be ignored, but no one except Christ himself perfectly reflects the light of the Spirit.  Still, the Spirit can make use of us, despite—and even through—our flaws, because the light is more powerful than the darkness.

But Louis’ life is just one pane in the Church’s great window.  So what does all this mean—the stained glass of the Sainte-Chapelle, the mosaics of the cathedral, the lives of the saints?  To me, it means that God doesn’t work apart from his creation, but in and through it, in and through us.  God’s Spirit surrounds, penetrates, shines through everyone and everything, if we let it.  In a sense, there is no such thing as “secular”; the universe is luminescent with divinity in abundant variety.  We Jesuits have a term for this:  “finding God in all things.”  At SLU, we are a large, diverse community, each with his or her own gifts and roles and contributions, passions and perspectives and personalities.  But when we let the light shine through us, uniting us into a single picture, we do not compete or cancel out, but rather complement and culminate in the work of art God is making of us.  Grace builds on nature; it does not negate the diversity of who and what we are, but brings it all together.  For there is one Spirit prompting us, and there is one purpose we aim at (and I quote):  “the pursuit of truth for the greater glory of God and the service of humanity.”  None of us, nothing of what we do can be understood apart from that single inspiration and that single mission.

Allow me to push it further.  It’s not Father Collins and his Office for Mission and Identity who are responsible for SLU’s mission; it’s all of us.  And it’s not just theology majors who are seeking to grasp God; it’s also math and art and chemistry and engineering and pre-med students.  And it’s not only certain faculty and staff who are so-called “mission hires”; every hire is a mission hire.  And it’s not just Campus Ministry or the Catholic Studies Program or Habitat for Humanity who are living out our Catholic, Jesuit identity; it’s every one of our programs and organizations and departments engaging in teaching or healthcare or study or service of all stripes.  If we take this seriously and look for glimmers of the Spirit in our everyday work and appreciate them in everyone else’s, then we won’t degenerate into a conglomeration of competing cliques; we will form a single body, with one Spirit and one goal, unified though not uniform.  Each mosaic tile, each piece of glass in this massive, complex community will gleam and reflect the light in its own way, despite its imperfections, and together compose a shimmering panoply that carries on the story of salvation into our own day, and beyond.  And that will make a masterpiece to rival even our patron saint’s royal chapel.  Come, Holy Spirit, and shine through us this year!

Thursday, August 25, 2016

2016 New Student Convocation and Family Welcome

Saint Louis University celebrated our 2016 New Student Convocation and Family Welcome on Thursday, August 18 in Chaifetz Arena. Senior Corey James gave the student address, which we share here in its entirety. Corey focused his address around his experience with Benedict Joseph Labre Ministry With the Homeless.

Be a Billiken, Be The Pilgrim

Welcome new Saint Louis University Billikens. Three years ago, before I spent my Fall Welcomes sporting exclusively orange, I sat exactly where you are now; and I’d like to start today by talking about something that I know you will see hundreds of times while at this university: that is the statue of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus, that is located on the center of Saint Louis University’s quad. Entitled The Pilgrim, this statue of St. Ignatius, as pointed out to me by a Philosophy professor here, has a bit of an unusual gaze. When looking at Ignatius’ eyes, you’ll notice that it is actually difficult to see whether he is looking far off into the distance or whether he is focused on something up close. This quality, I think, is undoubtedly intentional. St. Ignatius spent his life looking at both the far and near, the large and small, the future and present, the details and the big picture. Now, Ignatius’ eyes are important to note, but even more so when you notice that whatever it is he is looking at, he is stepping towards it. He is pursuing it.
In many ways, this statue of St. Ignatius embodies what it is to be a SLU student. Ignatius was an innovator, a visionary, a doer, and a dreamer. He was an incredibly dedicated student, a selfless man of faith, and a loving saint. The SLU community is filled with people like this, and now, you are being welcomed into that community. You are being invited to become someone greater than you are now. You are being welcomed home.
Much like Ignatius’s gaze and step, both of which are aimed in some direction – I’d like to recommend to you all three things to aim at, to look for, to pursue during your time here: this city of St. Louis, this incredible university (Go Bills), and, of course, yourselves.
Firstly, get to know this city. St. Louis is a place with a vibrant culture, rich history, amazing cuisine, growing arts and innovation scenes, and entertaining sports. Briefly focusing on the last of these, just look at this city’s sports teams: the Blues made a great run in the playoffs last year, the Cards almost always play in October, and the St. Louis Rams, from what I hear, are destined to go undefeated this year. So this is an awesome college city, with so many unique and accessible things for college students to do. I remember coming here from New Orleans my first year, and honestly thinking that no city would ever compete for my love like my hometown. But this place has. So my first advice is to branch out from SLU. Get out and explore the city. Go downtown. Go run in Forrest Park. Shop at the farmer’s market in Tower Grove. See a concert at the Pageant or a poetry slam at Legacy’s. Go out and do things, because this is an incredible city to see.
But keep in mind that seeing a city can be done from a lot of different perspectives – many of which may be much different from your own. Take, for instance, my friend Marvin. I met Marvin about a year ago while he was camping under a bridge downtown near the Mississippi. He told me about what it is like to walk these streets and to feel abandoned, targeted, and lonely. One time, he even wept while he told me how badly he wanted a job. But most days he gets up, reads a little, and then strolls around the city looking for a way to make ends meet.  Marvin, as you may have guessed, is currently experiencing homelessness. This means that his circumstances give him a unique view of the city: one from ground zero, from the bottom up. Seeing from Marvin’s perspective has taught me that St. Louis provides an opportunity to learn really important things about the world. So why is Marvin’s story and perspective relevant to you? Because SLU encourages and facilitates finding, learning from, and being changed by these perspectives.  
Next, get to know this university. Saint Louis University is a Catholic, Jesuit institution that “[pursues] truth for the greater glory of God and for the service of humanity.” This mission means that during your time here, you’ll learn how to be women and men for and with others. Just like Ignatius, you’ll learn to use your ears – to listen to the poor and the marginalized. You’ll be taught what it means to strive for justice; and not only does this institution teach you these things, it provides you the opportunity to live them out. Take Labre Ministry with the Homeless – the student organization through which I met Marvin. I have been fortunate enough to be a part of this organization since my first year here, and the encounters and conversations with people I’ve had through Labre have changed who I am and how I see the world. But SLU doesn’t stop there. There are dozens of organizations here with faith, service, and justice missions, all teaching you how to live a life of meaning and purpose. Teaching us how to take experiences like a friendship with Marvin and to bring those into ways of transforming the places we live.
All of these things about SLU are infinitely important; but, like Ignatius, don’t overlook the smaller things, the specifics and the details. Get to know the people who work here: the groundskeepers – stop to talk to Tony and Tommy as they are keeping this campus beautiful. Thank the food workers for their selfless service – like Delores and Frank in the Center for Global Citizenship.  Get to know the administration, the staff, and even get to know the squirrels – they’re celebrities around here. But especially, get to know your professors – they’re incredible, and it is an honor to be educated by them. Take time to take in what makes this university who we are.
And lastly, get to know yourself. Being a university student will come with some of the greatest challenges you’ve faced in your life. Challenges to your integrity and authenticity. Challenges to your character and worldviews. Challenges from friends and from classrooms. Allow everything you learn during your time here sink into you and impact you. These experiences are important in this phase of life, and important to us at this university. The late Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, former Superior General of the Jesuits, captured this spirit well when he spoke to Jesuit university students just like yourselves saying, “Students, in the course of their formation, must let the gritty reality of this world into their lives, so they can learn to feel it, think about it critically, respond to its suffering and engage it constructively.”
So welcome home, Billikens. You have come here to change and to be changed. Just like Ignatius, you are on a journey. A great pilgrimage in some direction towards something much bigger than just yourselves. So don’t forget to take it all in. The large and the small. The present and the future. And in doing so, challenge yourselves, the world around you, and keep moving forward.

“Go Forth and Set the World on Fire”

Thank you. And God bless you all.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Christ Has No Body Now But Yours

A few days ago I had a dream about ISIS. Though I do not recall any details about the dream presently, the eerie feeling that I had while sleeping, immediately after and even into the next morning is quite clear. My dream experience brought the reality that many have suffered and are suffering presently into the forefront of my being. For a moment, though subconscious and through a dream, I had what might be for some a very real feeling of sorrow or terror--of enslavement. The experience was personal and up close.

In today’s gospel, Jesus unrolls a scroll and reads from the prophet Isaiah that the Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” He then proceeds to tell us that “today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”

In our own time, there are many in our world who are enslaved or oppressed in variety of ways.  I would like to believe that slavery is over, for as an international community we have acknowledged that slavery is a crime against humanity. And yet, human trafficking, racism, terror, indifference, displacement and greed are harsh realities for those most vulnerable in our world.

Several years ago I lived in Nepal. Recently, I received an email from a former student who comes from a poor village. He spoke to me of his current reality: “now due to the
political instability we are facing [a] huge problem of shortage and starvation of food, fuel, gas, kerosene etc...the government leaders are also involved in that black market and earning huge money. they are selling basic needs thing(s) in triple price. the high class people they can [afford]  but poor people they are having [a] really difficult time.”

Dorothy Day once said, “No one has the right to sit down and feel hopeless. There is too much work to do”. December 8, 2015 began the Jubilee Year of Mercy instituted by Pope Francis. Our readings today draw upon a variety of themes. Jubilee, though not explicitly stated, seems to be present in both the first reading and in the gospel. In the biblical sense, jubilee was the “year of the Lord” where all debts were cancelled and slaves were freed.

A question that comes to mind today for me is: do we have the courage to set each other free? There is a long list of evils that exist in our world, and as individuals we might feel helpless. Teresa of  Ávila asserts that: “Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”

The second reading reminds us that we belong to each other. Sometimes in prayer I visit the most vulnerable. I remind myself that if they are suffering through such horrors, then their horrors are somehow mystically apart of my story and are Christ’s mutilated body.

My prayer today is that Christians everywhere have the courage to love those in their midst and to act both within systems and in their daily lives for a more just world. While there is much work yet to do before we are all set free, still the first reading delivers words of comfort while we live in the already, but not yet realized experience of Jesus. “Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the LORD must be your strength!”

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

It is not my problem...

The following blog entry was Fr. Robert Murphy's homily for Sunday, January 17. The readings for Sunday are available here.

It is not my problem. It is not my problem. This is basically Jesus’ initial reaction today in the Gospel. We hear that he is at a wedding with his mother and his disciples and at a certain point during the reception they run out of wine and for those of us who have planned weddings and know how much things cost it is no surprise that ran out because things add up and there is only so much money to go around and for those of us who have attended weddings it is no surprise for we know how much people like to, let’s call it “celebrate.” Now Mary knows her Son, and she knows that he can do something to help in this situation. And so she asks her son to help and he is like well how does this concern affect me, my hour has not come. Basically, It is not my problem, I not ready.

Now before we give Jesus a hard for being like this, let us check ourselves because often enough we can be like this, we can have this mentality. We can look at our country and see questions about immigration and think well I am a citizen not my problem, and we can look out and we can see abuses against life and think I not pregnant or I am not terminally ill not my problem, we can look around our city and see homelessness and think I got a place to stay, not my problem, and we can see racism and think well I am not a person of color so not my problem. And in addition, we can tell ourselves I am just a college student, I am not ready, once a get my degree and graduate then I will be ready, then it will be my time. And so we can let ourselves off the hook.

Now fortunately, for everyone at the reception, Mary will not let Jesus off that easy, so “encourages” him to do something by she simply volunteering him. And this gets Jesus to act and through the use of his gifts, his abilities, he is able to help the married couple resolve their problem even though he is not married, even though it was not his problem and even though he did not think he was ready.

And fortunately, for everyone in our country, Martin Luther King, would not let certain inequalities stand. And so he decided to do something about it, and this encouraged other people to act. And they began to use their gifts and his abilities in the civil rights movement even though many people were not ready or prepared and even if it might not have been an issue for them.

And so like Isaiah the prophet in the first reading, they could not be silent. And we my brothers and sisters cannot be silent. There are certain issues facing our city and our country that our faith, our Catholic faith not only encourages, but calls us even demands that we speak out that we act that we act until the day of vindication, until the day that certain people are no longer considered forsaken but delightful. Take a minute and think about all the different people that are hated right now who are demonized and imagine what it would look like if they were accepted and appreciated. And since we know that we are not there the question for us is not if we should act, if we should respond, it is how, not if but how.

And for this we turn to our second reading, for St. Paul explains that there are different types of spiritual gifts but the same spirit, and different forms of service but the same Lord, and different workings but the same God. And then he goes on to list out different gifts and how the spirit gives these different gifts to different people. And so my brothers and sisters, we have each been blessed with our own unique set of gifts and abilities. And so each of us has to identify our gifts and abilities and decide how best to put them to use. And this can be hard and so sometimes we need someone to be like Mary and encourage us.

And while at SLU we are here to be this person for each other. We are here to not only help each other recognize our gifts and develop new ones but in the mean time we are to here find opportunities for us to use them and encourage other to do the same and in this way work on the problems facing our city and our country.

Now my brothers and sisters, Jesus did not work alone to solve the problem, he worked with other. He did his part and they did theirs. So look around this space, look around this space at all the different people, and as you do think about all of the different gifts, all the different gifts that God has given us and with this in mind let us realize that there is no problem, that there is no problem that we cannot solve if we work together.

Friday, December 11, 2015

The Great Campaign of Sabotage

“Long lay the world, in sin and error pining
Till He appeared, and the soul felt its worth” –O Holy Night, c. 1847

Sometimes, my appreciation for grammar rewards itself.

‘O Holy Night’, of course, is a standard holiday song heard, sang, and overplayed on many a radio station committed to syrupy and overproduced renditions of Christmas classics. But no matter. To paraphrase a former professor of mine, abuse of a song doesn’t negate proper use, or its lyrical prowess. It’s still a good song.

It’s this line quoted above that has long jangled a deep chord of truth within me. It both recognizes that the world is, to put it mildly, a mess and it always has been (Ecc. 7:10). And yet … the world being a mess is never the end of the story. The next line of the hymn is "Till He appeared, and the soul felt its worth."

In this line, it would have been so easy to have the ‘its’ instead be a ‘His’ – as in, when Jesus was born, people’s souls were able to understand the worth of Jesus. “… and the soul felt His worth” – this sounds churchy, proper and altogether plausible, doesn’t it?

But that is not how the hymn is, thankfully so.

What the hymn actually states is what we know in our gut to be true about our world today; we live in a world drenched in sin, of people misusing one another, misusing God’s creation, and not loving their neighbors as themselves. We experience this reality locally in our city. We see and hear this play out in the news that we consume and in the news that consumes us. We taste the bitterness of it as it touches our lives, or the lives of those we know and love. The way of the world.

This was as true in Jesus’ time as it is now. Soon after Jesus was born, his parents would have to quickly become refugees in another country (Egypt) – their hometown was no longer a safe place to be. They sought shelter as strangers in a strange land.

Stop me if any of this sounds familiar. This is regrettably the way of the world right now.

And yet … Scripture treats the historical birth of Jesus Christ as an event foretold in the Old Testament; the fulcrum upon which creation turns. It’s what Oxford University fellow and Christian apologist CS Lewis referred to in Mere Christianity: “Enemy-occupied territory-that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.”

And by great campaign of sabotage, Lewis means that the birth of Christ is the firstfruits of this ‘way of the world’ (sin, violent misuse of one another and of creation) being interrupted. It's the firstfruits of us and all of creation starting to be set right by God through Christ’s love for us, justice for victims and the oppressed, of being saved from the sin that ensnares us, both in ways we have misused others and in ways we have been misused by others.

When Christ appeared, it was God’s way of showing us what we are worth. Words can only, at best, describe some of the depth, breadth and expanse of God’s love for us.

"Till He appeared, and the soul felt its worth."

Sometimes, grammar and pronouns convey so much.

My hope and prayer for you this holiday season is that you would, in ways familiar and new, get to experience and know in the deepest parts of your being that you are loved by God beyond compare.

Jim Roach is the Campus Minister in Reinert Hall.

Friday, November 20, 2015

To Should or Not to Should

I recently had a conversation with a student about shoulds. In the conversation, we discussed the feelings of obligation that come with them. They tend to cause us to place unrealistic expectations on ourselves which then lead to guilt when we don’t fulfill those expectations. As someone who doesn’t really like to be told what to do, when I feel like I should do something, I have less motivation to actually do it.

I don’t know about you, but I too often let shoulds run my life—there are times when I should all over myself. There are a lot of things in my life that I feel like I should do. These shoulds carry a lot of weight with them and if at the end of the day I feel like I haven’t completed enough of them, I may go to bed with a heavy heart.

These shoulds can also impact the way I live my life. I do things not because it’s the right thing to do, but because I feel like I should do them. Shoulds have a tendency to turn into have-tos, and those can feel real heavy. Not all shoulds are bad, but those that cause us to set unrealistic expectations and that induce unhealthy guilt are those that we might need to really evaluate and call into question.

Shoulds can oftentimes spill over onto our image of God. It becomes an image of God standing there shaking his finger at me, making me believe I’m not good enough. This is, in my experience, so far from who God is. Instead, God wants to free us from the shoulds. I believe God uses coulds. Coulds feel more like an invitation than a demand. When we’re invited by God, we do things out of love, not shoulds.

Ask yourself where you’re shoulding in your life. Are there tasks that you’re resentful towards and you allow yourself to easily be distracted from? Chances are there’s a should behind it. Are there spaces in your faith life in which you do things because God is shaking a finger at you rather than inviting you? Chances are there’s a should behind that too.

Robby Francis is the Campus Minister in Fusz and DeMattias Halls.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Homily for the Solemnity of All Saints - November 1, 2015

One day a priest was visiting the home of some parishioners who had a young toddler. The parents were wondering what path their son would one day choose, so the priest said he had a simple test that could predict what would become of him. He would set out three objects and let the baby choose whichever one he wanted to have: a Bible, a wallet stuffed with cash, or a bottle of scotch. If the baby chose the Bible, he’d be a holy priest; if he chose the wallet, he’d be a wily businessman; and if he chose the bottle, he’d be a slick bartender. So the parents let the baby loose, and when he ran over and grabbed all three at the same time, the priest cried out, “Saints preserve us! He’s gonna be a Jesuit!” I can neither confirm nor deny that I was the baby in this story. But what I can tell you is that it points to something important: what it means to have a certain vocation, and what it means to be holy, can often burst apart the categories of our expectations. It’s a good time to remember this, because today we celebrate two things. It is the feast of All Saints, a day when we honor all those who, by God’s grace, lived out our faith in holiness, both the canonized and the uncanonized, both the famous and the forgotten. It is also the beginning of National Vocation Awareness Week, when the Church encourages young men and women to consider what kind of life God is calling them to.
So I’m going to combine these two occasions into a single, bold claim tonight, and say this: it is the vocation of every person in this church to be a saint. Now, when I say that it’s your vocation to be a saint, I’m guessing that you’re probably listening politely on the outside, but inside you’re more or less dismissing it as pious claptrap. I’m betting there are at least two reasons for this. First, most of us think we are way too flawed, too imperfect, to ever be remotely eligible to be a saint. What we know of saints makes them sound like religious superheroes who do things far beyond our ordinary lives. Second, most of us don’t even particularly feel a desire to be a saint, since frankly it doesn’t sound like much fun. Saints seem so austere, so otherworldly, so serious, so grim. What we hear of their lifestyle just doesn’t seem like a viable option for happiness. But maybe the categories of our expectations need to be burst apart. What I’d like to propose to you is that being a saint means, yes, being flawed and, yes, being joyful.

So, first: saints were flawed, imperfect, broken people like you and me, but they allowed God to use them. And when God used them, he transformed their very flaws into strengths, with that delicious kind of irony that God seems to enjoy. The communion of saints is definitely a motley crew—as the first reading describes them, “a great multitude from every nation, race, people, and tongue.” Take a closer look at some of these colorful characters:

St. Peter, a big-hearted blunderer whose mouth seems a few steps ahead of his brain, who stands up to confess Jesus as Son of God, but later denies he even knows him—God uses his generous spirit to become the leader, the rock of faith on which the Church is built.
St. Paul, a passionate, single-minded religious fanatic who goes from city to city bitterly persecuting the young Church with all his energy—God uses his zeal to become the great missionary who spreads Christianity throughout the Roman world.

St. Jerome, a crotchety old curmudgeon who’s good at languages, but complains when studying Hebrew that it sounds like farting—God uses his talent to translate the Bible into Latin, which would communicate God’s word for centuries.

St. Hildegard, a sickly woman who lives enclosed as a nun and suffers from debilitating migraines—God uses these episodes to grant her visions, which inspire her to stand up even to the most powerful men in her society.

St. Thomas Aquinas, known as the Dumb Ox because he’s hefty and slow to speak, which makes him work extra hard at his studies—God uses his careful perseverance to become the master scholar who writes a huge summary of all theological knowledge.

St. Ignatius Loyola, a chivalrous but washed-up wanna-be knight who wants to do great deeds in service of his king—God uses his great-hearted vision to found a new order, the Jesuits, to serve under the banner of Christ the King.

St. Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower, who wants to be a missionary but lives in a cloistered monastery and dies of tuberculosis at age 24—God uses her apparent insignificance to produce profound spiritual writings and powerful miracles still today.

Why does God choose the weak, the misguided, the idiosyncratic, and do great things through them? Maybe just to show that it’s not all about us. Holiness is God’s doing: God will take even the things we’re most embarrassed about and turn them around until they are, ironically, the ways we can best serve others and build up his kingdom. So not feeling “saintly” is no excuse: God has a fondness for unlikely heroes, and the people you least expect—including you!—may turn out to be saints, whether or not you’re ever canonized. All that’s required is to allow God to work through you.

And second: no matter what they may look like in stained glass or as statues, saints were joyful people, because they were following their hearts. Being holy is not a grim, teeth-clenched, deadly serious enterprise. It means not chasing after false happiness and things that delude us, but living life to the full, flourishing as the persons we are created to be, chasing joy. In fact, our
tradition reveals many saints who impressed people by their good sense of humor:

As St. Lawrence was being put to death for being a Christian by being slow-roasted on a gridiron, he famously told his executioners, “I’m done on this side; you can turn me over now!”

St. Augustine in his autobiography wrote that he used to pray, “O Lord, give me chastity… but not yet!”
When St. Francis of Assisi’s father accused him in public of giving away all his goods to the poor, and pointed out that Francis’ own clothes were bought from his father’s hard work, Francis stripped off all his clothes, gave them back to his father, and walked away naked.

St. Ignatius Loyola used to cheer up sad Jesuits by dancing a little jig from his native country. After getting hit with a cannonball in his youth, one leg was shorter than the other, so it must have looked pretty goofy.

St. Teresa of Avila is said to have prayed, “From somber devotions and sour-faced saints, good Lord, deliver us.” She even liked to joke around with God—in one journal entry she wrote, “If this is the way you treat your friends, Lord, it’s no wonder you have so few!”

St. Philip Neri was widely regarded as a saint during his lifetime, so to keep himself humble, he would go around with half his beard shaved off, or wearing a cushion on his head like a turban, or making faces at people while he was celebrating Mass.

St. John XXIII, who was pope just over fifty years ago, was famous for his wit. When asked how many people worked in the Vatican, he replied, “About half.” And once, when he was at a fancy dinner which a woman attended who was wearing a very low-cut dress, his assistant said, “What a scandal! Aren’t you embarrassed that everyone’s looking at her?” John replied, “No! Everyone’s looking at me, to see if I’m looking at her.”

Why do saints laugh so easily? What’s the source of their joy? For one thing, they’re comfortable with themselves, and don’t mind looking foolish or drawing attention to their own shortcomings. Also, they keep everything in perspective: they know what’s really important in life, and can poke fun at the things that aren’t. Most of all, they understand that what God wants for them and what they want for themselves deep down are the same: to be truly happy, to flourish in the way they were made to be, with all their gifts and desires and personality. They know that following God’s will is ultimately never going to conflict with who they want to be. So yes, our vocation is to be saints—or put another way, our calling is to be holy. And no, our flaws won’t get in the way. And no, we will not have to give up happiness—in fact, we will find the most genuine joy we can imagine. What particular mode our holiness will take is going to be different for each of us. There are some in this church who will one day join the Jesuits. Some will become priests or sisters or brothers of other kinds. Some will get married, and some will stay single. Some will dedicate their lives to healing the sick, or defending justice, or serving the disadvantaged, or teaching the young, or building a better government, or any of a myriad of other professions. It’s up to each of us to figure out how God is calling us to be holy. The important thing is that we need not fear God’s plan for us, or worry that it won’t satisfy us. As we read in the prophet Jeremiah, “I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord: plans of fullness, not of harm, to give you a future and a hope.”

Fr. Steve Schoenig, S.J. is a Professor in the History Department.