You might remember that several months ago I related the story of some friends of mine whose seven year old daughter came home from school one afternoon, and asked them, “Is Johnny Appleseed a Saint?” The little girl was enrolled in First Communion instruction at the time. She had read about Johnny Appleseed in Social Studies class at school. On the bus ride home that day she combined what she had learned in First Communion instruction and Social Studies class, and formulated the question that confounded her parents. There is a little more to the story than I mentioned previously.
When the parents weren’t able to answer their daughter’s question they used every parent’s fall-back position: they passed the buck. They told their daughter, “We don’t know if Johnny Appleseed was a Saint, but we’ll be visiting Fr. Alan in a few weeks; you can ask him.” They dodged the question, and thought that they were going to put me in the same uncomfortable position in which they had found themselves.
Before the family arrived for their visit, the parents had made their daughter practice her question so that she would ask it immediately upon arriving at the rectory. I greeted them at the door, and invited them in; the seven year old immediately launched her question at me. I could tell by the looks on the parents’ faces that they had been looking forward to this; they were hoping that I would be as confounded as they were.
Providentially, I had been looking at the Vatican’s website earlier in the week. The Vatican was in the process of building their website, and the email address of the Monsignor in charge of the project was listed on the site. When my friends’ daughter asked me, “Is Johnny Appleseed a Saint?” I was fortunate enough to able to respond immediately, “I don’t know, but we can ask the Pope!” My friends were crestfallen because I had managed to avoid being confounded by their seven year old’s question. Their little daughter sat at my computer, and typed an email to the Vatican. She had to search for each letter; the process took forever. I felt like a conquering hero, however, when I was able to hit the “send” button. I had passed the buck to the highest authority available.
After the drama was over we had a good visit, and my friends returned home. I didn’t give any more thought to the matter until a few weeks had passed, and I received an email from an address I didn’t recognize. It was a response from the Monsignor who was in charge of developing the Vatican’s website. I was very surprised that he answered a seven year old’s question, and even more surprised at the wisdom of the answer. He wrote, “I don’t know if Johnny Appleseed was a Saint, but you can be a Saint, if you want to be.”
I couldn’t wait to forward the response to my friends. Their young daughter got an answer to her question, and I felt like Jesus in his conflicts with the Pharisees: “And no one dared to ask him any more questions.” (Mark 12:34) I also got one of the smartest statements ever made by the Vatican, “You can be a Saint, if you want to be.” If you think, for a moment, about your favorite Saint, one of the first things that will come to mind is the effect that the Saint had on the life of the Church.
All of the Saints, regardless of the date and circumstances of their lives, have one thing in common: they all made extraordinary contributions to the community of the Church. St. Francis of Assisi brought the Church back to a concern for the poor and marginalized. St. Catherine of Sienna convinced Pope Gregory XI to leave Avignon, and return the papacy to the City of Rome. St. Ignatius of Loyola reinvigorated the Church’s missionary activities. St. Teresa of Avila used her pragmatism and sense of humor to teach prayer and spirituality. St. Therese of Lisieux turned away from a childhood of spoiled self-indulgence, and became a model of humility.
The Saints put into practice in their lives the lesson from the parable in this Sunday’s Gospel. The “good and faithful” (Matthew 25:21), servants were the ones who took the money entrusted to them by their master, and put it to good use. Each of the Saints made their own, unique contribution to the Church, but each did so in exactly the same way: by putting their individual abilities to work for the glory of God. The extraordinary contributions of the Saints were made from the ordinary circumstances of their lives.
God calls each of us to sainthood; God calls each of us to put our particular strengths and abilities to work in the Church. You and I probably won’t be given our own feast day on the Church’s calendar, but we can be Saints, if we want to be. Your support of our parish’s ministries makes the celebration of the Eucharist possible throughout the year, and into the future. In addition to our parish liturgical life, the Offertory Collection funds our religious education program, our care for those in local nursing homes and many other outreach activities to parishioners and non-parishioners.
Together, we can live up to the name of our parish: All Saints. We can all be saints, if we want to be. The saints weren’t called to a higher standard of holiness than the rest of us; there is only one standard. The Saints are recognized as such because they gave themselves completely to God. Some gave the gift of intellectual talent. Some were compelling preachers or teachers. Some were examples of prayer; others were examples of missionary zeal. Each gave what they had.
In the parable in this Sunday’s Gospel, the servants were judged both on what they chose to do and what they chose not to do. The two servants who were rewarded by their master were the ones who made an effort to give back more than they received; the one who was condemned by his master failed to make any effort at all. The same standard of judgment will apply to us.
Each of us shares something in common with the Saints: each of us have gifts to give. Johnny Appleseed gave our country a vision of an ideal life; he was a saint in his own way. You and I are called to share one further thing in common with the Saints; we are called to the same standard of holiness. You can be a saint, if you want to be. It’s easy; it is simply a matter of putting your talents and strengths to work in order to give glory to God. The opportunities for involvement that are listed in the Stewardship Report are just a few of the ways that you can put your talents to work for God’s Kingdom.
What gifts has God entrusted to you? How can you put those gifts and abilities to their best use?
It is up to each of us to discern the unique gifts we possess, and to put those gifts to good use in order to make a return to God in gratitude for God’s goodness. The Gospel poses the same question to all of us, and all of us want to hear the same judgment from God. The Gospel asks us to identify, and pursue, the unique way in which we are being called to serve God and neighbor. Each of us, in turn, waits to hear the Lord say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.” (Matthew 25:21)