I came across an interesting quote this past week; I think it was from several years ago. Fr. Ronald Rolheiser, OMI, a widely published author, wrote about today’s Solemnity of All Saints, “If I had a wish-list for the church today, it would include a request for three saints of old to re-appear in a new guise. What the church needs today is a new Augustine of Hippo, a new Francis of Assisi, and a new Thomas More.”
Augustine was a genius who addressed several major issues of faith during his ministry as Bishop of Hippo. He produced such brilliant explanations of various aspects of the Catholic faith that his writings remain influential today (approximately 1600 years after his death). I can think of several candidates who fulfill Fr. Rolheiser’s wish for a new, brilliant interpreter of the Faith. The first, Karl Rahner, SJ, has been very influential on Fr. Rolheiser’s own writing. A second, Fr. David Tracy, fulfills Fr. Rolheiser’s wish for someone who can address post-modern culture in the United States. This first wish, I think, is fully satisfied.
Anyone who wasn’t previously familiar with Francis of Assisi has become so because of the widespread popularity of Pope Francis I. Fr. Rolheiser wished for someone who would imitate the spirit of Francis of Assisi by being an example of the transformational power of evangelical poverty. Pope Francis is such an accurate reflection of his namesake that the Pope has been called a Marxist because of his views on economic injustice. It can be said safely that we definitely have a new Francis of Assisi.
That leaves a new Thomas More to be found. Thomas More was Lord High Chancellor of England for King Henry VIII. He had four children by his first wife, and adopted two more children in his second marriage (his first wife had died). He was a man of wide interests, schooled in law, literature and music. He had an active political career, and a deep love for his native England. He had also a deep love of God and the Church. He was martyred because of his perceived disapproval of Henry VIII’s marriage to Anne Boleyn.
Wishing for a new Thomas More, Fr. Rolheiser expressed the desire for a contemporary political leader who inspires trust, a married person who has raised children, a person who values education and the arts, a person with a very active public life and a strong faith. Fr. Rolheiser’s wish is for someone that the American public will admire, and want to imitate – both in her/his love of society and her/his love of God. I think I have a candidate to fill the open position; in fact, I think I have multiple candidates: all of you.
Catholicism has always valued the intellectual life and the arts. Some of the greatest universities in the country are Catholic universities. The Church has been both a patron and an inspiration of artists for centuries. Catholics routinely take prominent public positions on political issues that affect the common good. Catholicism values love of God above all else, and it values the created world as a reflection of the Divine Creator. As such, the Catholic Faith is able to speak both to people of faith and people committed to the secular order, and you are the inheritors of that long tradition.
Who is that new Catholic witness to the value of religious faith, family life, education, refined culture and social involvement? They are sitting in this church building. Throughout Catholic history, the great saints have made profound contributions to the life of the Church and wider society. They have done so by using nothing more than the God-given gifts of the circumstances of their lives. To imitate them requires no special talents on your part. It requires only a desire to love God and a deep respect for human society.
We believers have today as many good examples of faith as anyone could wish to have. The Solemnity of All Saints celebrates the countless believers who lived holy lives, but are not recognized publicly in the Church’s calendar of Saints’ days. The Solemnity of All Saints also invites, even directs, us to imitate the example of those whose holiness built and sustained both the Church and secular society. The only thing lacking is our enthusiastic acceptance of the invitation to be examples of citizenship and faith.
The society in which we live prizes personal happiness above all else. Sadly, to focus exclusively on one’s personal happiness is a guarantee of disappointment; it is not possible to be happy in a society which is blind to the social obligations of its individual members. The remedy for our culture’s self-destructive tendencies is written plainly in the Scriptures. Today’s first reading says, “See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. Yet so we are.” (1 John 3:1) It is our personal responsibility as believers to give public witness to the truth we believe, and to invite others to learn how to be children of God. Who is the next credible and admirable example of holiness in the midst of secular society? You are!