Sunday, November 1, 2009

Fr. Matthias Neuman's Homily for All Saints Day

All Saints - Nov. 1, 2009

Readings: Rev 7:2-14; 1 Jn 3:1-3; Mt 5:1-12

On this feast of All Saints, let’s instead think of some particular saints. I have in mind two recently canonized saints, Fr. Damian De Veuster, the leper priest of Molokai, and Jeanne Jugan, the foundress of the Little Sisters of the Poor. Both were raised to sainthood this past October ll. As Pope Benedict said in his homily at the canonization mass: Both of them showed outstanding commitment and love towards less fortunate groups of people in our world, the outcast lepers and the forgotten elderly poor.

Fr. Damian didn’t go to Hawaii originally to serve lepers. He went to do missionary parish work. It was only when he was ministering in Hawaii that he learned about the wretched leper colony on Molokai. They lived in truly appalling conditions: they were just dumped there, and occasionally some food would be dumped on the shore. There was no organization at all. Fr. Damian was moved to go and minister to them and eventually died a leper himself. But what a tremendous amount of ministry and social order he was able to bring into the leper colony. Truly an amazing figure. Jeanne Jugan, from an early age, seemed to have a heart that was sympathetic to the elderly poor. That was certainly unique in the society she lived in—and still is. One day as a young woman walking from her work back to her apartment, she met an old homeless woman. She was moved to take the woman to her apartment, put her into her own bed and Jeanne slept on the floor. Soon she had gathered several other old women to her apartment. She dedicated her life to serving them, and soon was joined in the work by several other young women. Thus was born the Little Sisters of the Poor, a remarkable group of caregivers and ministers.

These two saints show us one of the essential and valuable aspects of Christian holiness, a loving and ministering care for the poor and helpless of this world. In this they truly fulfilled the example that Jesus himself gave. It was not for themselves that they lived, but for those who were neediest in our world. They dedicated their whole lives to this end.

On this feast of All Saints, their example should cause us to reflect upon the saints we know, those who give their whole lives in the service and care of others who are needy. Whenever I think of people I know who are saints, my mind turns immediately to two husband and wife couples. Both couples have adult children who are severely mentally handicapped. They are giving their whole lives to make sure that their children will be provided for when they are gone. Their whole lives are put into this effort. I recall one especially poignant moment when I was talking with one husband and wife some months after their daughter was born with a severe case of Down’s syndrome. They were telling me how drastically their lives had changed with the arrival of their daughter. All their plans for their retirement years—the trips they had wanted so long to take—would likely never happen. But they had made their peace with that and lovingly committed the rest of their lives to ensure the safekeeping of their daughter. I thought to myself, "That’s heroic sacrifice. That’s the holiness Jesus exemplified." Although I doubt they would see it that way themselves.

Today let’s take some time to reflect on the living saints and we know and have known. Let’s pray for them and the gifts they so graciously share with others and have shared in the past.

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