By Msgr. Joseph P. Calise
In May of 1938, Louis Armstrong and his band recorded the well-known, “When the Saints Go Marching In.” Although other versions date back to the late 1800s, the Armstrong rendition is the most popular. It turned this Christian spiritual into a jazz classic.
The opening lines are, “Oh, when the saints go marching in, Oh, when the saints go marching in, Oh, Lord I want to be in that number, When the saints go marching in.” Most of us who grew up with that song probably read it as if we were singing it! On this Solemnity of All Saints, the church invites us not only to remember those who have already marched in but also to ask how we can one day be in their number.
The first question is, “What is a saint?” In the Gospel, Matthew equates “saintliness” and “blessedness,” but that translation can be misleading. Sanctity, or holiness, is not something mystically imposed on us from on high. Rather, it is the living out of our faith by using the grace that is God’s free gift, having first acknowledged it as God’s free gift. All of us, by virtue of Baptism and with the gifts of Confirmation, are called to live lives of obvious faith.
There are those whose holiness was so profound that their place in heaven is beyond doubt. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops expresses it this way on their website: “All Christians are called to be saints. Saints are persons in heaven (officially canonized or not), who lived heroically virtuous lives, offered their life for others, or were martyred for the faith, and who are worthy of imitation.” So, aware that we are all called to be saints, there are some who offer a good example for those of us still on the journey.
In his book “Rediscover the Saints,” Matthew Kelly offers a challenging look at the lives of some of our officially recognized saints and an inspiring view of how others are following in their footsteps. The conversion of Augustine, the prayer routines of Benedict and Teresa of Avila, the dedication of Ignatius of Loyola, the courage of Thomas More, the simplicity of Francis of Assisi and the generosity of Vincent de Paul (as well as the purity of Maria Goretti and the self-sacrifice of Maximillian Kolbe) are only a sampling of the examples cited. These holy men and women present an ideal, which gives us a challenge. In this march towards the kingdom, how do we become saints?
Several years ago, my doctor told me to add swimming to my exercise routine. Having never learned how to swim as a child I took his advice and found a swim teacher. I went to the pool twice a week for a lesson but was frustrated that I was not advancing the way I wanted to. One day as my lesson was about to begin, I saw another student swimming quite well in another lane of the pool and mentioned to my teacher that I wanted to be able to swim that well one day.
Her response was awakening. She pointed out that he was swimming on a day he did not have a lesson. He advanced because he practiced. Her words to me were, “If you want what he has, do what he’s doing.” If we want to live among the saints one day, we need to live now as the saints lived then.
The Beatitudes of today’s Gospel point out a holy way of living with the promise that if we live by them “(our) reward will be great in heaven.” They are for us the pattern of a holy life. To be merciful, clean of heart, persevering and accepting of the trials that are part of life are signs of blessedness, using God’s grace to become the best we can be.
Readings for the Solemnity of All Saints
Revelation 7:2-4, 9-14
Psalm 24:1BC-2, 3-4AB, 5-6
1 John 3:1-3
Msgr. Calise is the pastor of Transfiguration-St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish, Maspeth.