Have you ever thought about what you’d be the patron saint of? Maybe patron saint of power naps? The patron saint of drinking way too much coffee in the morning? The patron saint of ace-ing Algebra II class? Don’t laugh, because it’s an important question to consider!
Today’s topic from Eucharistic Prayer I has a lot to do with saints, namely the call for each of us to be saints. We pray, “Graciously grant some share and fellowship with your holy apostles and martyrs,” and then go on to mention a lengthy list of important saints. The first few are pretty normal saints that we know from Sacred Scripture like John the Baptist and Stephen. But as we move down the list, we hear about people like Ignatius, Alexander, and Marcellinus.
What the heck? How did they get in there? Well, these names may not seem that familiar – to us – but in the days of the early Church, when this prayer was first used, these saints and martyrs were people they might very well have been familiar with, maybe even part of their local community! These were people they had sat listening to, people they had followed, people they had seen giving witness to their faith, even to their deaths in the arenas like Perpetua and Felicity. These were individuals who had been personal examples of holiness that inspired their communities to grow closer to Christ.
So let’s go back to what we started with – are you trying to be a saint? Are you trying to be an inspiring example of faith to others? “Ha! Yeah right, Father! Being a saint is just for really holy people!” Well, strange as it might seem, that’s our call. Before being a husband or wife or priest or soccer mom or snake charmer or whatever, we are called to be saints. Sure, you may not be officially recognized and canonized by the Church, or called “St. _______ of O’Fallon” (because St. _____ of St. Peters sounds a little redundant), but you are called to be holy, and to be an example for others.
Saints aren’t just those we remember once a year, or statues we put votive candles in front of when we need them. There are living, breathing, aspiring saints among us now in our parish, our neighborhood, and even our households. As Pope Francis mentioned recently, these are simple saints, good people who may not have visible heroism, but in whose “everyday goodness, we see the truth of faith.”
Be that example of holiness for your friends, relatives, parents, and children. Don’t settle for mediocrity – embrace the call to heroic virtue!
Fifty days ago, during the Easter Vigil, we huddled inside away from the rain and cold, and we blessed and lit the Easter Candle. Of course, we then processed in with the candle, singing, “Christ our light!” We have placed that Easter Candle here in the sanctuary, and have been lighting it every time we have celebrated Mass, baptisms, and funerals. Now in addition to just being a 50 pound pile of wax, the Easter candle is very symbolic and is very important to our celebration of Easter. In fact, it’s all explained to us in the Exultet, the Easter hymn of joy. That living flame placed in our sanctuary is a symbol that Christ is alive! He rose from the dead, putting an end to the darkness of death just as the sun puts an end to night. That flame of the Easter Candle symbolizes the pillar of fire from the Book of Exodus, the presence of God, who led them through the desert and protected them from the Egyptians. And just as that pillar of fire led the Israelites out of the wilderness and into the promised land, so now Christ is our light, leading us as our sure guide through every trial and temptation, and into the promised land of Heaven. What an amazing message provided by this beautiful lump of wax! But after today that Easter Candle is going to be taken away, and in this church, placed almost as far away from the sanctuary as it can get – back by the baptismal font. So what happened? Does that mean that after today, the presence of Christ is no longer with us? Does it mean that Christ is heading to the Bahamas for a few months and that he’ll be back next Easter? Does it mean that we’re on our own? That we can handle it from here?
We hear in the Gospel how alone the disciples felt. They were hiding together with the doors locked, windows shut, and tasers drawn out of fear. They knew what had happened to Christ, and they knew that the same thing would happen to them if they stuck their necks out. They didn’t know what would be happening next, where to go. They had given everything away to follow Christ, and he had been crucified before their very eyes. What would happen next for them? Was it time to start over? But then, out of nowhere, Christ appears before them, saying, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, now I send you!” You can imagine the thoughts of the disciples at that moment. They were overjoyed by the fact that Christ was with them again, but he’d only been back with them 30 seconds before he sends them out again, back into that hostile world. But he doesn’t send them alone, but breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” This moment transforms them forever. This moment, our moment, the moment of the descent of the Holy Spirit, isn’t just some other Sunday. It’s Pentecost. It is the Birthday of the Church, when out of that band of scared men, out of the bleeding side of Christ at the crucifixion, and out of the purifying flame of the Holy Spirit, we emerged as a new and transformed people. We are no longer the Israelites, who when the pillar of flame disappeared wandered through the desert wondering if they had been abandoned. We’re no longer the disciples, hiding from persecution, unsure why the Lord had been taken from them. Now, we are the Church, with that pillar of fire burning within our hearts as the raging fire of the Holy Spirit. That Easter Candle that has stood here for 50 days is no longer needed, because now we have that flame within us, and we go out to light the world by continuing Christ’s mission in our daily lives.
This isn’t always easy. We’re still being sent out into the unknown, and that is probably the scariest part – wondering where it is that we’re being sent off to. I have the honor of celebrating my 2nd anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood in just over a week, and as I’m thinking back on my time at All Saints, I can say that getting here was pretty scary. I remember receiving the letter assigning me here, and thinking, “Where the heck is that?” I had no idea there was even a parish here, and in fact, I don’t think I had even driven this far down Mid Rivers Mall. I was comfortable where I was, I had finally learned the names of a few people, and I wasn’t sure I wanted a change. But I think now about the many things that the Holy Spirit has led me to, and I know that I wouldn’t be the same priest I am today without that move of uncertainty. Where would I be without the school, and the youth group, and the invitations and visits of parishioners, and the weddings and funerals I’ve done here. Where would I be without the 900,000 Cadberry eggs that have been dropped off for me since Easter – maybe a few pounds lighter, I think. The same is true for all of us. Sometimes, the Holy Spirit leads us through times of uncertainty, but the graces that stem from that experience are plentiful, as long as we trust in the Holy Spirit and follow that pillar of fire within our hearts.
As we enter into the season of Ordinary Time tomorrow, we know that a tendency can be to get into a routine of mediocrity that lets that flame slowly die out. So how is it that we can keep it bright and burning? Well, the first thing is that a flame needs oxygen. Without it, the flame simply fades and goes out. In the same way, prayer has to be the oxygen of our hearts. A life lived without prayer is one that is unguided, one searching for something to guide it other than the light of the Holy Spirit, and which becomes joyless and dead. Likewise, we have to ensure that the flame is allowed to grow and burn without anything getting in the way. If you notice, when the candles in our sanctuary are lit for a long time, the wax accumulates and stifles the flame, until it is barely recognizable if the candle is lit or not. So occasionally, we’ll have to cut the excess wax away, or pour out the melted wax in order to allow the flame to thrive again. The same is true for us. We sometimes forget to live lives guided by the flame of the Holy Spirit, and we need that wax cleaned away. That is why the sacrament of Confession is so important – it allows that flame of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, that flame of sanctifying grace, to continue burning brightly, giving us all the grace we need to live lives according to the Gospel. We need to make an effort to make use of the sacrament as well.
As this Easter season comes to a close today, and as we enter into Ordinary Time enlivened by the presence of the Holy Spirit within our hearts, let us turn to the Lord in the Eucharist today in gratitude for the gift of the Holy Spirit. Let us thank him for not leaving us alone as orphans, but for sending us an advocate, a consoler, a paraclete, who leads us on each step of our lives.
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and enkindle in them the fire of your love.
Did you ever notice that when I pray Eucharistic Prayer I, I pause in the middle of the prayer for a few seconds? No, it’s not because I fell asleep, or because I forgot my line. That particular moment in the Roman Canon is the Commemoration of the Dead. Have you ever asked why we pray for the dead in the first place?
There are lots of reasons throughout the Old and New Testaments and in the first practices of the early Church, but probably the most direct reference is in the 2nd book of Maccabees. Some people may not know much about this book, but it’s a great story. The Jewish people were being hard pressed by the Greeks to abandon the public practice of their faith, and the Books of Maccabees are about the series of successful rebellion campaigns led by Judas Maccabeus against Antiochus V around 163 BC.
After a few skirmishes, Judas returned to the battlefield to bury his soldiers, and he takes a few moments to pray for them and take up a sacrificial collection of silver on their behalf. This is awesome, because it’s so similar to what we do today! These were godly men, but they were still carrying around amulets to pagan gods, showing they were still sort of attached to lesser sins, despite the fact that they were good people.
The passage (2 Maccabees 12:39-46) points out that it would be useless to pray for them if we did not expect them to rise again. He believes that the dead can and must be purified by the prayer and sacrifices of the living. Judas Maccabeus “made atonement for the dead that they might be absolved from their sin.” (2 Mac 12:46)
So fast-forward to today. During Mass, we pray for the souls of the just who have gone before us in faith. As many good memories as we have of them, I would wager that most of our deceased relatives and friends weren’t perfect – they might have still been attached to some bad habits or venial sins. That doesn’t change our love for them, but Purgatory is about removing those obstacles and striving for perfection to see God face-to-face.
Sometimes people have the idea that Purgatory is a bad thing, and that God wouldn’t want someone to suffer. But the “suffering” souls experience in Purgatory isn’t like the suffering that we’re used to. Imagine waiting for a movie that you’ve been getting excited to see for a whole year, and when you get to the theater, you’re at the end of a long line. Your suffering is that you want to get in and see the movie – you want the reward! But the anticipation of the movie is making you anxious as you wait. Maybe you have regret over not having prepared well enough to get to the theater earlier. But the thing is, you know you’re going to get into the movie, and you know the movie will be fantastic – you just have to wait.
Purgatory is infinitely better than our lives on earth because here, we’re still making that choice between Heaven and Hell by the way we live our lives and how we strive to imitate Christ. In Purgatory, that decision is made – that soul is going to Heaven to be face-to-face with God!
So don’t forget your loved ones. Remember the names of your beloved dead, and pray for them, especially for those few moments during the Eucharistic Prayer. And through our faith, prayer, and good works, let’s strive for Heaven as well!