All Saints - The Homily

Why are saints attractive to us today? According to Notre Dame professor, Dr. Thomas Neal,

  • Saints are examples of discipleship who show us what living “in Christ” looks like in our age, in our state in life.
  • Saints love us and manifest that love by serving as intercessors with Christ in the heavenly Kingdom.
  • Saints desire to become our intimate friends. Patron saints can be considered God-commissioned benefactors assigned to our needs, but can also be considered as men and women of risen flesh and blood who wish to befriend us.

But there’s a problem with that view. Is it possible that we have made saints into something that they’re not?

When it comes to saints, Bishop Robert Barron says that the trouble with

Contemporary discussions about the saints is that we “tend to make the Bible accessible to our consciousness and thereby tame it and domesticate it, often turning it into a faint echo of what should be heard in a religious text or within the culture itself.

It’s easier to talk to 21st century rational empiricists about saints who were great humanitarians than it is to speak of saints who levitated, raised the dead, lived on the Eucharist alone, or who had bleeding holes in their hands.


Eamon Duffy, in his book Faith of Our Fathers, mentions this point. Duffy contends that the new model of sainthood as the “moral hero” runs the risk of two dangers:

  1. The first is the danger of either fostering “a wearisome emphasis on good deeds and moral effort that makes the saint a narcissistic, multi-tasking holy, social worker.
  2. the second danger is that we render the saints to be so much “like us” that we fail to look on them in stunned amazement. They’re boring and irrelevant prigs.”

He says that saints in the pre-modern world were mostly venerated not because they were good examples, or moral heroes but because they were “totally other.” They were wild prodigies, awe-inspiring miracle workers. The more saints of times past were unlike the rest of us, the better. In other words, strange = good. Duffy comments:

Saints bring into our common lives the uncommon, dissonant uncomfortable mystery of God. They make us see and touch those gross reliquaries filled with bones, blood, flesh, hair, and clothing transformed into the Transcendent.

The body of a saint is a locus of an unpredictable and supernatural power that threatens to, at any moment, rip open the veils of time and space and reveal to us that the ugly, dirty, gross “stuff” of this world is - bit by bit - being transformed into the World to Come.

Saints who are celestial tightrope walkers, ascetic stars, brutally tortured martyrs and eccentrics who dare to transgress the Inaccessible Light that threatens to transubstantiate not only the bread and wine but the whole cosmos.


Many saints were not pretty:

Saint Callistus was a convict who was converted and ascended to the papacy.

Saint Pelagia of Antioch was a fourth-century sex symbol who later became a hermit.

Saint Moses the Ethiopian was a gangster turned monastic.

Saint Alipius, Augustine’s friend, was obsessed with blood sports but was later appointed as an African bishop.

The Irish Matt Talbot was a drunk who quit cold turkey, lived a penitential life, and became a 20th-century saint revered by Catholic alcoholics.


What kind of saint are you? What kind of saint does God need you to be? To answer, consider possibly:

  • Do exactly what you are doing.
  • Be exactly how God made you to be.
  • Integrate your past (both the good and the bad) with a redeemed future. God will put you in a place where you will reach people with whom you share a common past.


Today we don’t need “holy cards.” We need saints:

  • .. who are Sad – because they see the poverty, injustice and struggles of others.
  • .. who are Sinful – just look at the list of “sanctified, sinful all-stars” above.
  • .. who are Serious – because they see in a world driven by whimsy and entertainment.
  • .. who are Silly – like St. Philip Neri who laughed while ministering in a world of sadness.
  • .. who are Sure – Saints who are talented, competent, can envision a better future and can make it happen.
  • .. who Shouting – at injustice while others remain quiet.
  • .. who are Silent – in a world addicted to noise.
  • .. who are all about Self-Care – Saints who live a healthy, human, holistic lifestyle.


Audio version of the homily is here:




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