Mary, Mother of Our Redeemer Chapel
Saint John’s School of Theology and Seminary
Rev. 7:2-4, 9-14
In the name of God, who is the same today, tomorrow, and yesterday. Amen.
“Don’t call me a saint. I don’t want to be dismissed that easily.”
Lauded for her commitment to the poor and marginalized, as well as to the Eucharist and the Mother of God, Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Worker movement and a Benedictine Oblate of Saint Procopius Abbey, was regarded, even during her life, as a modern-day saint. To which, of course, blessed Dorothy replied: “Don’t call me a saint. I don’t want to be dismissed that easily.
What was she getting at? Any number of interpretations are plausible and it is quite impossible to know what, in fact, Dorothy meant by that now-oft-quoted quip. I think that Dorothy was critiquing our natural tendency to place the saints of God on a pedestal, thus making them idealized, out of touch, and inaccessible.
Dorothy knew that the saints of God were anything but dainty and delicate.
The Church’s annual festival of the saints is a clear call not to dismiss the saints. We dismiss the saints when we engage with them, not as close friends, but as distant intercessors, whose lives were so unlike our own that we and they cannot possibly hope to understand one another. We dismiss the saints when we forget that they are standing here among us—around the altar, next to us in the pews, on the Link, at the Refectory, and, yes, even at the pub.
Who are these saints of God, these holy women and men who surround us daily and who intercede for and with us?
The Elder in John’s apocalypse asks the very same question.
John, who has just witnessed the breaking of the first six seals, comes face-to-face with a fantastical sight. He sees, before the Throne of God, the whole company of heaven dressed resplendently in white, waving palm fronds in victory, and singing aloud their praise to God. The Elder asks what seems to be a rhetorical question: Who are they? Who are these persons of every nation, every gender, every language, every race, every religion, every orientation? Who are these who dare to approach the Throne of God in majesty and offer their worship?
John is at a loss and turns the question back to the Elder, whose response is: “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal.”
True to its apocalyptic genre, we are left wondering: “What great ordeal?” Our opening hymn attempts an answer. In response to the Elder’s question, stretched out lyrically, the hymnist answers:
These are they whose hearts were riven, sore with woe and anguish tried/ who in prayer full oft have striven with the God they glorified; / now, their painful conflict o’er, God has bid them weep no more.
This “glorious band,” it becomes clear to understand, is the communion of the saints, the ones who have lived their lives and who, upon their death, are forever sheltered by God’s tabernacle-ing presence.
The saints are not pious, saccharine models of a holiness unattainable by you and by me. No, indeed, the saints are those who have, like we are doing right this minute, attempted to lived their lives in intimacy with God. That is the great ordeal through which the saints in Revelation have come out: a life lived in intimacy with God.
From every imaginable background, the saints whom we honor this week lived profoundly human lives. Whatever emotions we experience in life, we can be sure that the saints experienced first. They know full well the pressures of a living as Christians in a world of greed, rage, and fear. They know the pains of oppression. They know the sorrow of heartbreak and loss. They know death—physical and spiritual and emotional death. They have pondered life’s questions and struggled to discern their vocations. They know grief and despair. They know the impenetrable confusion which consumes most, if not all of us, at some point in our lives. And they know what it feels like, as do many of us, to wrestle with God. To really brawl and tussle with God.
“These are they who have come out of the great ordeal.”
If intimacy with God is the hallmark of a saint’s life, then closer intimacy—enduring intimacy, heavenly intimacy—is the reward of the saint.
As we this week—on Sunday and then again today—keep festival with the saints, may we strive with renewed vigor toward that day when we, too, shall enjoy God’s enduring shelter alongside that glorious band.