The Saints: “Who are those guys?”

Archbishop Paul S. Coakley

I am a classic movies’ fan. There is a scene in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” in which the two hero/outlaws (Paul Newman and Robert Redford) are being tracked through mountains and deserts by a relentless band of lawmen. In spite of all of their efforts, they are unable to shake them. Sundance turns to Butch and asks incredulously, “Who are those guys?”

We might ask the same question as we prepare to celebrate the Solemnity of All Saints on Nov. 1. Who are these men and women to whom the Church extends such honors?

The saints are the friends of Jesus. They are men and women of every age and race and culture who remind us that we are all called to be close friends of Jesus and share his life. They show us how to love and serve as Jesus loved and served. They show us how to live our lives in such a way that we too may be worthy to share the glory that Our Lord has prepared for his friends in heaven. We are all called to become saints.

I sometimes ask Confirmation candidates how many of them are striving to become saints. Few raise their hands. When I ask how many of them are striving to get to heaven, everyone acknowledges that this is their hope. I remind them that the only ones who are in heaven are saints. Not all are canonized, of course. But beside the angels, the saints are the only citizens of heaven. The point here is that we are all called to holiness. In ordinary and even extraordinary ways, we are called to lives of virtue that reflect the goodness, beauty and truth of Jesus, who is our model for what it means to be fully human, created in the image and likeness of God.

With the help of his grace and the proper use of our freedom, holiness is not beyond our reach. It is the birthright that we inherit when we are reborn by water and the Holy Spirit in Baptism.

A few weeks ago, I was privileged to be present in Washington, D.C. when Pope Francis canonized Saint Junipero Serra. It was the first canonization to take place in the United States. Saint Junipero Serra was an 18th century Spanish Franciscan missionary who walked up and down the California coast establishing missions and proclaiming the gospel of mercy to the native peoples. He brought them Jesus.

Closer to home, the cause for the beatification and canonization of Okarche native son Father Stanley Rother continues to advance in Rome. Like the Good Shepherd whom he served, Father Rother gave his life for the flock entrusted to his care. When violent turmoil threatened his parish on the shores of beautiful Lake Atitlan in Guatemala and death came knocking at the door, he refused to flee and secure his own safety. He remained steadfast, because a shepherd cannot run at the first sign of danger. He refused to abandon his sheep, even at the cost of his own life.

“Who are those guys?” Both of these were ordinary men, but the grace of God and their fidelity to that grace transformed them into heroic witnesses for Christ. The saints are our heroes and role models in the great adventure of Christian discipleship. They are husbands and wives, youth, priests, religious women and men, widows, single persons and martyrs. All are called to holiness.

Holiness is not something artificial; rather it brings out what is best and most authentic in each of us. The call to holiness is an invitation to become who we truly are.

“We are God’s children now, what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him” (1Jn.3:2). In the lives of the saints all of the ennobling qualities of the human heart are elevated and perfected by divine grace.

“Who are those guys?” The saints are the men and women of every time and place who not only point the way to heaven but show us how to establish an authentic civilization of love and mercy here on earth.