Tuesday, November 01, 2005

The Saints: God’s Art Gallery

The North American Martyrs (all members of God's Art Gallery): St. John de Brebeuf, St. Isaac Jogues, St. Gabriel Lalemant, St. Anthony Daniel, St. Charles Garnier, St. Noel Chabanel, St. Rene Goupil, St. John de la Lande.

(All Saints 2005: This homily was given on November 1, 2005 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. Read Revelation 7: 2-4, 9-14; 1 John 3: 1-3; Matthew 5: 1-12.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: All Saints 2005]

Dr. Fritz Wenisch is a professor of philosophy at URI. He’s also a committed Catholic. Recently he was having a conversation with his friend Tom. Tom is an evangelical Christian who loves Jesus, but doesn’t understand very much about Catholic beliefs and practices.

The discussion began when Tom showed Dr. Wenisch a newspaper headline which made reference to the fact that John Paul II might be canonized a saint in the near future.

Tom said, “Look at that. Soon you’ll worship him as a god.”

Dr. Wenisch tried to help Tom understand that Catholics don’t worship saints (no one is to be worshipped but God alone!). Rather, we venerate (that is, honor) them because of their faithfulness to Jesus. We hold them up as good spiritual role models, because they reflected the light of Christ in their lives, as the moon reflects light from the sun.

That clarified the issue of worship for Tom, but he still didn’t agree that it was a good thing to venerate the saints because (and here I quote) “the way you Catholics relate to the saints distracts from God’s glory.”

Dr. Wenisch then compared God to the great artist Rembrandt. He said to Tom, “Imagine Rembrandt taking a friend through his studio. Instead of looking at any of the paintings, the friend keeps his gaze fixed on Rembrandt until [finally the artist] asks impatiently, ‘Don’t you want to look at any of my works?’ The friend defends himself, ‘I am afraid that looking at your paintings will diminish my appreciation of your greatness as a painter.’”

Dr. Wenisch then said to Tom, “This would be silly, would it not? Through admiring Rembrandt’s paintings, the friend gives honor to Rembrandt. Similarly, the saints are God’s most wonderful creations; by admiring (that is venerating) them, we give glory to God who made them.”

Today, on this Solemnity of All Saints, I would ask you all to reflect on what Dr. Wenisch and others would call “God’s Gallery”his art gallery of saints.

How much time do you spend in it?—that is to say, how often do you contemplate the lives of saints and draw inspiration from them?

A lot? Sometimes? Never?

When was the last time, for example, that you read a book or watched a movie on one of the great saints of the Church?

Be honest!

If you have children or grandchildren, how often have you brought them into this gallery of the Lord?

Have you tried to help them, in other words, to find a favorite portrait or two?—a saint or two from whom they can draw inspiration in their lives?

Please hear this: If you don’t spend time in this gallery, you will spend time in others.

And if you don’t help your children and grandchildren to spend time in this gallery, they also will spend time in others!

Thus they will draw their inspiration in life from the role models of the world who inhabit these other galleries: actors and actresses, for example, who’ve been divorced more times than they can count on their two hands; pop singers who can’t manage to sing a song without 25 vulgar words in it; athletes who will do anything to win—even lie and cheat and take steroids.

We are human beings. By nature, we are social creatures. As such, we quite naturally follow the example of other people whom we admire.

The Church tells us—for our own good—that we should admire the saints and follow their example, first and foremost, since they were faithful to Jesus here on earth, and now share his glory in heaven.

You see, my brothers and sisters, when all is said and done, it’s either God’s Gallery or it’s the others. We either spend time in the Lord’s Gallery, draw our inspiration from those in it, follow their example—and then become part of that gallery when we leave this life; or we spend our time in the others, model our lives on the mixed-up, immoral people we find there, and then spend eternity with the one who owns and who operates all those other galleries.

And I don’t think I need to tell you who that is.

All you saints, pray for us, that we will someday join you in God’s Art Gallery, where his greatest works are on display now and forever.