Holy Lives, Set Apart — by Fr. Rich, O.P.
The Concise Dictionary of Theology defines the word “saint” in this way: it’s Latin for “one who is holy or set apart.” This weekend celebrates both those that we know and honor and those who are unknown to us; there are uncounted numbers of such individuals in our history, and we remember them in our prayers and thoughts today. The qualifications for entry into this select elect have developed through the ages.
“Prior to the year 1234, the Church did not have a formal process as such. Usually martyrs and those recognized as holy were declared saints by the Church at the time of their deaths. Before the legalization of Christianity in the year 313 by Emperor Constantine, the tombs of martyrs, like St. Peter, were marked and kept as places for homage. The anniversaries of their deaths were remembered and placed on the local Church calendar.
As time went on, the Church saw the need to tighten the canonization process. Unfortunately, sometimes figures of legends were honored as saints. Therefore, in the year 1234, Pope Gregory IX established procedures to investigate the life of a candidate saint and any attributed miracles. In 1588, Pope Sixtus V entrusted the Congregation of Rites (later named the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints) to oversee the entire process. Beginning with Pope Urban VIII in 1634, various Popes have revised and improved the norms and procedures for canonization.” (Catholic Education Resource Center) And so, we have the congregation of saints who we celebrate throughout our liturgical year.
There’s more to our celebration. If we take a moment, each of us can likely conjure up an individual we believe fits our definition. I know at least one. This weekend is also about these men and women: Individuals who have lived lives of holiness, dedication, denial, prayer. Individuals who have labored long and hard in the vineyards of the Lord, spreading the Good News with humility and joy, loving God and their neighbor with abandon.
In the Gospel for November 1, we hear Jesus teaching his disciples, and within that teaching, we discover the characteristics of the men and women who, in our hearts and minds, are the saints who we commemorate in this place and time. We know them as blest for their work with the poor or the sick and dying. We know them for their commitment to spread the Good News in season and out, with little regard to the pain or danger of their work. Those men and women, in prayer, in labor for righteousness, in working for peace and justice; these are the people we should take the time to honor on this day.
That’s as it should be. However, there’s more to it than that.
As Christians, we too, are called by the words Jesus spoke to his Disciples. They ring through the ages to challenge us to live lives that are holy, which set us apart. In baptism, we are invited to show those around us that we follow Christ; in our confirmation, we are strengthened and gifted with the gifts of the Spirit to preach the Gospel, in season and out. At the table of the Eucharist, we are nourished, body, soul, and heart with the Word and the blood and body of Christ Jesus. We are nourished in order to meet the challenges of being a Christian in a world that hungers for justice and peace, but which is sometimes short on mercy and righteousness.
As we continue our celebration of all the saints, I would invite you to remember those men and women known only to a few, but whose lives qualify them to be considered “holy or set apart.” And I would challenge you to go from here with the knowledge that we each have within us that same powerful potential. Just answer the call.