Sermons

November 3: Thirty-First Sunday

“Today, salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.” Luke 19:1-10.

We come to the Sunday following All Saints and All Souls Days and listen to Luke’s story of Zacchaeus, a wealthy tax collector poised atop a sycamore tree. He’s up there because he is short of stature, but also because Zacchaeus wants a clear line of sight; at last, Jesus calls him and goes to the man’s home. This is a further mark of distinction, and perhaps even friendship.

In this the month of November, these celebrations of saints and sinners tell us that no one is unworthy of the Lord’s attention and love. Even the local tax collectors, those very collaborators with the Roman occupiers, are mentioned in Luke’s gospel. They are worth taking a second look — because in the long run of life, they too are worthy of salvation.

It takes a second look, a form of discernment about those lives whose holiness speaks of the new age, the Kingdom of God — the invisible domain of the heart that calls us to the love of God and service to our neighbor.

So today, let’s talk about All Saints and All Souls.

Catholics are especially fond of “patron saints,” or saints that can get us through a rough patch. The examples are endless. Such as praying to Saint Anthony of Padua when you have lost something of value. Or those attempting to have a quick sale of a home, find themselves burying a statue of Saint Joseph on the grounds of a property.

Certain saints have a particular function, such as Saint Monica, the patron of mothers. Others have a specific duty, such as the patron of “expectant mothers,” and this is the purview of Saint Gerard Majella. And of course, Saint Jude Thaddeus, one of the Apostles and brother of Saint James, is the patron of hopeless cases.

Some of these patrons are only loosely connected to their cause. Saint Clare of Assisi, the co-worker with Saint Francis, is the patron of television. She never sat down to catch up on specific episodes of Downton Abbey, but she did have telepathic visions. So I guess these visions count.

Well, such is the state of patron saints, that even those under the radar have a special place in Lord’s eyes.

For those of us who recognize how frail we are before God’s saving power to lift even the dead to eternal life, yesterday was All Souls Day, the Day of the Dead.

This past week, you may have noticed that the Washington Nationals beat the Houston Astros in the World’s Series. Of course, this is baseball’s most significant accomplishment. Still, for the Nationals, a second major league World’s Series victory in Washington, D.C., since the Washington Senators won ninety-five years ago. That’s quite a gap in time and a long-list of losing seasons for these “poor souls” of baseball history. So they’re out of purgatory for this year as the World Series Champs.

Here’s a soul worth listening to, Fay Vincent, the former Commissioner of Major League Baseball, and an excellent writer. His recent article in the Wall Street Journal entitled “A Good Life in My Dying Days” is worthy of our attention. (7/20/19).

Vincent tells of his recent diagnosis of leukemia and his reaction; he says: “So this is what it feels like to begin the process of dying.”

Here’s Vincent at this best:

“I understand that dying begins at birth, but I am 81 and fortunate to have been afforded longevity. I can have no regrets. My diagnosis means the game of life is turning serious and the late innings loom.

My challenge is to seize what time I have left. I will try to be responsible to my wife, family, and friends. I will try to avoid becoming the old man in the corner who requires constant attention and care. I cannot let the way my life comes to an end destroy the way I would like to be remembered. Dying is still a part of living, and the way one lives is vital, even in the dying light.”

What’s Vincent’s prescription for living a good life even when that life appears to be slipping away?

He recommends spending a few hours speaking with young people where you might be able to impart wisdom, often the result of one’s own mistakes and awkward stumbles.

Vincent recalls that he much enjoyed his youthful process of learning and how he reads and learns from every book possible. Something to think about, “When I am thinking, I am living,” he says.

Fay Vincent reminisces about those prayers that meant the most to him.

As a youth, he learned to pray the Hail Mary that ends with the request “now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”

A little later, in high school, the prayer of Cardinal John Henry Newman was offered at each evening prayer service at his boarding school, closing with the line, “Then in his mercy may he grant us a safe lodging, a holy rest and peace at last.”

So we come full circle, saints and sinners. We pay further attention to Zacchaeus and how he gave half of his possessions to the poor and had remorse for his sins. Most of all, we hear the invitation from Christ, “Today salvation has come to this houseā€¦and the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.”

Afterward

The Irish have an abundance of patron saints, and some have several causes. For example, Saint Fiacre, a 6th Century Irish saint, is the patron of both taxi-drivers, and, in his off-hours, is the patron to gardeners and gardening.

Once at Mass, my friend, the late Father Declan Dean, told the story of an Irish parishioner of his who had a great devotion to Saint Martin DePorres, the lay Dominican brother of Lima, Peru. He is the patron of innkeepers, barbers, and hospital workers, and has a substantial following among Catholics in Ireland.

After 125 years, this holy man was finally raised from the status of “blessed” and formally canonized to sainthood by Saint Pope John 23 in 1962. After years of faithful devotion to Blessed Martin, Declan’s parishioner would now have to venerate Saint Martin.

The Irishman considered Martin DePorres his short cut to God’s ear. He told Father Declan: “Saint (?) Martin de Porres, watch now that he’s promoted. He would not lift a figure for you!” It was Father Declan’s humor and extraordinary preaching ability that gave all of us a good laugh.

Rosary Chapel, Santa Catalina School, Monterey, CA

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