Homily: “On the Saints and Mission”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County, on the Feast of All Saints, 2017.

As the Adult Study Classes began early last month our close examination of the Gospel according to Saint Mark, I invited the classes to an exercise in which we name significant things we would lose of the Christian life if the only Gospel account of Jesus Christ that came down to us was from Mark; in other words, if Matthew, Luke and John, and for that matter the rest of the New Testament books, did not exist, only the account recorded by Mark. I was not the least bit surprised to see that each class caught on quickly to what we would lose in that scenario. The first response in each case was—we would lose Christmas, because Mark begins his gospel not with the infancy of Jesus but with his mature ministry. Quickly were named many of the rest: knowledge of Blessed Mary, important parables such as the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan. If we only had Mark’s Gospel, we also would not have the Sermon on the Mount, and so we would not have the Beatitudes that we hear in our Gospel lesson on this Feast of All Saints.

The Saints and the Beatitudes go hand in hand. And if we did not have the Beatitudes, then the Church would have a far less clear and defined understanding of the qualities Jesus expects His saints to have. To be poor in spirit, to mourn, to be meek, to hunger and thirst after righteousness, to be merciful, pure in heart, a peacemaker, and persecuted for righteousness’ sake—these are all qualities of being a disciple at it highest level. They have to do with being humble, sympathetic, sensitive, finding joy in humility, craving progress toward union with God, compassionate, constant in religion, prudent in search of harmony with others, and possessing the fortitude to endure suffering in a creative way. The Saints of the Church have in myriad ways attained these characteristics by the grace of God. And in the myriad ways they have done so, and through their unique personalities and gifts, they teach us how to be better disciples, because they are model Christians.

Over the course of this liturgical year (which draws to a close in four Sundays’ time), we have given particular attention on Sundays to Saint Paul the Apostle, Saint John the Baptist, Saint Mary Magdalene, and Saint Mary, and done so with particular attention to what they can teach us about Mission.

Saint Paul, certainly among the most consequential human beings ever to live, showed up for us liturgical back in January on the Feast of his Conversion. Jesus had been trying to direct Paul’s life long before Paul was knocked to the ground by a blinding light and divine voice. Paul’s pride had been preventing that light and voice from speaking to him sooner. And so Saint Paul is an enduring teacher that our purpose for existence, yes as individuals but moreso as a parish community, has been part of God’s plan from the beginning, and if we cannot discern our purpose for being in Tazewell County, then we must first look to whether our self-centeredness is the cause.

We next gave close attention to Saint John the Baptist on the occasion of his nativity, celebrated in June. John is the first person we meet in the Gospel of Mark, he is introduced at length by Matthew, he is prominent in Luke, and his ministry is raised to the status of mystic in John. However he is described, his ministry—and therefore his example to us—is clear: He announced the coming of Jesus Christ and through his words and actions, he preached repentance, that is, raising one’s heart to God—and then, he got out of the way and let Jesus do His work. His mission is our mission: to announce to the word by deeds and actions the coming of Jesus Christ, into homes, neighborhoods, workplaces, and into hearts.

We celebrated Saint Mary Magdalene in July. Another major Saint, she is rightly called the apostle to the Apostles, because she announced to the Eleven the resurrection of Jesus Christ. She teaches us because she turned to God perfectly and completely with all the passion, emotion, and embodiment that she formerly gave perfectly and completely to idols, whatever those might have been. And in giving herself as a living sacrifice to God, a perfect oblation, she was able to listen to Him as He only spoke a word, and her soul was healed. The word was her name, and being healed meant she became a new creation.

And then in August, we celebrated Blessed Mary, Ever-Virgin. Mary is the best teacher, and hence is always given pride of place in the Communion of the Saints. She teaches us that saying Yes to God, however He presents His will to us, is the path of discipleship. But not the “yes” of a doormat, but the yes of someone who actively seeks to comprehend God, and brings to Him our reason and our thinking. Because Mary first conceived Jesus in her mind before conceiving Him in her womb, she teaches us to rejoice in the Lord, and recognize the gift He has given to us in Christ Jesus.

Finally, just over a year ago, I chose to devote a significant part of a sermon to Mother Teresa and her teaching to us. Now of course, she is beatified as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. She is perhaps the most outstanding Christian of the 20th-century, and certainly among the most well known and loved. Her ministry to the poorest of the poor is a permanent example of serving the poor, heightened by the fact that for several decades of this ministry, she did not feel the personal presence of God. Brothers and sisters, I want to present Mother Teresa as an example to our churches for how to do Mission in the 21st-century. In speaking to a commencement ceremony for Harvard University, she said that the poverty in the rich countries runs deeper than it does in India. The poverty here is less about material possession, but is a poverty rooted in loneliness. Let us ask for the intercession of Blessed Teresa, so that our mission in Tazewell County can be to those among us who are lonely. And let our mission to them be love. Amen.