Homily for Sunday, November 4, 2018
It is easy to forget, when we are here on Sundays, that the Church’s calendar is quite busy during the week. And when I say that the Church’s calendar is busy during the week, I don’t mean our mid-week meetings or Wednesday evening services, or all the activity with the Food Pantry and Birthday Wishes. When I say that the Church’s calendar is quite busy during the week, I mean that the Church’s liturgical “Kalendar” is filled with the commemorations of saints. For example, this week Tuesday is the feast day of William Temple, the Archbishop of Canterbury during the war. Wednesday is the feast day of Willibrord, an 8th century missionary and the first Archbishop of Utrecht in the Netherlands. Saturday is the feast day of Leo the Great, a fifth century Pope best known for his concise statement of Christ being two Natures in one Person. And—if you really get into it—you can go online and google “Episcopal saints calendar” and explore those saints whose commemorations have been proposed but who yet await official approval. On that list are all of the above commemorations plus… Thursday is the commemoration of St. Elizabeth of the Trinity, a Carmelite nun and mystic from the turn of the last century, and Friday is of Louise DeKoven Brown, an early 20th century American philanthropist, social reformer and suffragist. Save for tomorrow, every day this week is the feast day of a saint; indeed, of the 30 days in November, 25 are saints’ days. (November has some great saints: Lili’uokalani, the Last Monarch of Hawaii; St. Herman of Alaska, a Russian Orthodox monk and missionary to Alaska; the writer C.S. Lewis, and also Sojourner Truth.) These and other saints give witness to the many ways in which the Spirit manifests the life of Christ in the Church’s members.
When I read about these saints in our calendars, I notice several things:
- Saints come from all walks of life. Saints are men and women, young and old, rich and poor, of all races and from all places, of different churches and, in at least on case, of different faiths(!). One of the Dorchester Chaplains—four chaplains aboard the Dorchester, a troop transport sunk by a U-boat in the North Atlantic in February, 1943; who calmed the frightened men, helped to arrange for an orderly abandoning of the ship, and who then gave their life jackets to others—was a Jewish rabbi, Alexander Goode.) Saints come from all walks of life; God can work through anybody.
- Many of the saints endured incredible adversity. We may be familiar with some of the martyrs—from Perpetua and Felicity of the early Roman persecutions, to the Martyrs of Japan in the 16th century to Archbishop Oscar Romero of recent memory—but even a cursory read of the saints’ lives reveals how difficult many of their lives were, even those who weren’t martyrs. For example, we can read of the dire sickness of Julian of Norwich (which led to her “Revelations,”) or of the “dark night of the soul” borne by Juan de la Cruz (John of the Cross). Or we can read of the many setbacks endured by the missionaries to the American Middle West, Jackson Kemper, James DeKoven and James Lloyd Breck. Or of the harrowing battles and crushing defeat of William Porcher DuBose’s regiment in the Confederate army during the American Civil War. Or we can read of the challenges and inner trials faced by Dorothy Day in her work with the poor, or of the nearly life-long spiritual dryness experienced by Theresa of Calcutta. Many saints in our calendar experienced much adversity. Which I find a comfort, because no matter the adversities we may be experiencing, chances are, the saints experienced them, too. And—if the saints’ lives are any indication—our adversity in no way limits God’s ability to work in us; indeed, it often seems that God works in us because of and through our adversity.
- I’m not sure exactly how to say this, but “integrated” is the word that comes to mind when I read of the saints; the saints lived profoundly “integrated” lives. Living an “integrated” life is bigger than “blooming where planted,” though it includes that; living an “integrated” life is bigger than using the gifts God had given them for good, though the saints did that, too. In living an “integrated” life the saints wove all of who they were—they owned and lived into the entirety of who God had made them—[they wove all of who they were] into who God is so as to make whole cloth. For example, Hilda of Whitby, born into a royal family with Celtic roots, used her royal connections and her Celtic background to successfully negotiate peace between the Celtic and Roman Christians in 7th century England. Or consider Theresa of Avila, aflame with love for God, using that energy not only to be a contemplative but also to be a founder and administrator of multiple convents in 16th century Spain. Or think of Samuel Isaac Joseph Schereschewsky, a 19th century bishop of Shanghai who, when he contracted Parkinsons, resigned his post but spent the last twenty years of his life translating the Bible into Chinese. The saints didn’t let their sins—yes, they were sinners, too—or adversity hold them back; they had a sense of who they were and their gifts and their limitations; and they allowed themselves to love God fully and to be loved by God fully (warts and all) and to be used by God fully (warts and all!). The saints lived “integrated” lives such that, by the time of their deaths, they were fully alive.
- Here at Trinity Parish, I see some of the same gifts present that the Holy Spirit gave to the saints. I see among us generosity, resilience, faithfulness, fortitude, longsuffering, desire for justice, willingness to serve, kindness, gentleness, thirst for God… all gifts that the saints manifested.. For example, I see among us the generosity of Elizabeth of Hungary, who gave away her royal treasury for the benefit of the poor. I see among us the resilience of the Apostle Paul, who, despite innumerable setbacks, never ceased to press onward. I see among us the care of Florence Nightingale, who famously worked among the wounded in the Crimean War. I see among us the forgiveness of Hiram Hisanori Kano, a Japanese-American priest interred in our concentration camps during the war, who ministered to his fellow prisoners and who, when later offered reparations by the US government, refused: “I don’t want the money,” Kano said. “God just used that as another opportunity for me to preach the gospel.” When I see these and other saintly characteristics among us here at Trinity, I know that “the home of God is among mortals,” that “we are his people,” and “God himself is with us.” The Holy Spirit is present, right here right now, in our lives, inviting us to allow God to use us and to carry out the God’s mission in this world.
I invite us this week to google “Episcopal saints calendar” and to meet some of these saints. The saints whom we celebrate today are not merely friends; they are those who are “knit together” with us “in one communion and fellowship.” Together, with their witness, and with their prayer and presence, combined with the gifts that God has given us, we can help God carry out God’s purpose for this world. So that maybe one day, allowing God to work in us, this world will indeed be a place where “death will be no more,” where “mourning and crying and pain will be no more,” and “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” This day may seem like a long way off, but we serve a God who is patient and whose nature is to make all things new, who has given each of us gifts, and who invites us to discover our own unique way of manifesting Christ in the world. May God give us the grace to receive God’s gifts, to follow more closely the example of Christ, and to be the holy people God is calling us to be.