Solemnity of All Saints 2015

Published: October 31, 2015

Bishop Anthony B. Taylor preached the following homily in Edmond, Okla. on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2015.

Bishop Taylor

Thirty-eight years ago I was in Rome for the canonization of St. John Neumann by Pope Paul VI. Three years ago I was there when Pope Benedict canonized Kateri Tekakwitha, our first Native American saint, and Marianne Cope who worked with St. Damian with the lepers at Molokai in Hawaii. And then last month I was present in Washington for the canonization of Father Junípero Serra by Pope Francis.

So I have been present for the canonizations of four of the 13 saints from the United States. The other American saints are three North American Jesuit martyrs: Sts. Isaac Jogues, René Goupil and Jean LaLande; Anne-Thérèse Guérin, Katherine Drexel, Elizabeth Ann Seton, Rose Philippine Duchesne and Frances Xavier Cabrini. I feel especially close to these saints because not only did I attend their canonizations, for many years I worshipped every Sunday surrounded by half of them represented in stained glass windows in my home parish.

But notice, 13 canonized saints is just a drop in the bucket. There are more than 10,000 canonized saints and the United States is — after Brazil, Mexico and the Philippines — the fourth largest Catholic Church in the world, making us per capita just about the least likely Catholics in the entire world to be found to display the kind of heroic holiness required for official recognition as saints by the universal Church.

How hard do you really try to be pure of heart? Most people try to live “good” lives, or more precisely: “good enough” lives, but good enough for what? Good enough to stay out of jail? Good enough to make it into purgatory?

I feel very honored to have a role working on the cause of canonization of Father Stan Rother from Oklahoma, whom I met two months before he was martyred in Guatemala. If canonized, he'll be only the second native-born American, cradle Catholic to receive this distinction, the other being St. Katharine Drexel. All the other canonized Americans are either immigrants or converts. Anyone who makes it to heaven is a saint, but why is it that more Americans have not been canonized? Mexico has 30 canonized saints and even Japan which has very few Catholics, has 20 canonized saints — almost twice as many as us. Are we less holy than others? 

The Bible says that purity is required for holiness. Today's first reading describes a group of saints “who have survived the time of great distress and have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb.” Meaning that whatever their flaws,  they have been purified by the trials they endured for Christ and so will now share also in his victory. Christ purifies them, but the saints also have to do their part.

As John says in our second reading, “Everyone who entertains this hope (of heaven) makes himself pure, as (God) is pure.” And in today's Gospel Jesus says in his Beatitudes that purity of heart is required to enter God's presence: “Blessed are the pure of heart: they shall see God.” Indeed, the other Beatitudes simply describe what it means to be “pure of heart,” namely “poor in spirit, meek, hunger and thirst for righteousness, merciful, a peacemaker, persecuted for the sake of righteousness” ... If you're that kind of person, “rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.”

So why there are so few canonized American saints? Could it be that as a culture we fall short in the purity department? ... That we tolerate far too much that is unworthy of the Lord, not to mention unworthy of ourselves? From whence do most immoral trends get started these days and transmitted to the rest of the world? If you read the obituaries in the newspaper it sounds like everybody goes straight to heaven, regardless of how they lived their lives.

That's the opposite of what we find in the Bible; no wonder there are so few American saints. How hard do you really try to be pure of heart? Most people try to live “good” lives, or more precisely: “good enough” lives, but good enough for what? Good enough to stay out of jail? Good enough to make it into purgatory? 

Today we honor all the saints and we ask them to pray for us, that we will be one day be allowed to join them in heaven. And tomorrow on All Souls Day we pray for all the faithful departed who are still being purified in purgatory for eventual admission into heaven. And on both days we pray for ourselves, that the Lord help us become pure of heart now, purified by the trials we endure for Christ now, holy now and saints in the life to come!