Friday, November 01, 2013

Chase Perfection; Catch Excellence


(All Saints’ Day 2013: This homily was given on November 1, 2013 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Revelation 7: 2-4, 9-14; Matthew 5: 1-12a.)
[For the audio version of this homily, click here: All Saints 2013]


“Johnny, we heard that the end-of-the-year report cards are coming out tomorrow, and your mother and I want you to know that we won’t be upset at all if you don’t get good grades in your classes.  All that matters to us is that you pass, and that they allow you to move on to the next grade.  In fact, we don’t care if you come within a point or two of failing.  That’s of no concern to us.  Just make it through by the skin of your teeth, and we’ll be very happy.”

In my 56 years on earth, my brothers and sisters, I have never once heard a parent say that—or anything remotely like that—to their child.


And I’m quite confident I never will.

But I have heard many people (including many parents) speak that way when it comes to holiness; when it comes to following Jesus Christ, and living the Gospel, and obeying the commandments and the teachings of the Church!

St. Peter tells us in chapter 1 of his first letter that we need to become holy in every aspect of our conduct.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church, in paragraph 941, reminds us that everyone—without exception—is called to holiness.  Jesus in the Beatitudes that we just heard a few moments ago said, “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied,” and “Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.”

Jesus, the Bible, and the Church are not minimalistic when it comes to sanctity—and neither should we be!  But it is a constant temptation, isn’t it?  In fact, some people pursue almost everything in life with an incredible passion—except holiness!!!  They seek the best education, the best job; they seek to be the best they can be in terms of the sports they play and all the extra-curricular activities they engage in.

But they don’t give a second thought as to how they’re doing in their relationship with the Lord.

Well, today’s feast day reminds us that holiness needs to be our first priority, because when all is said and done at the end of time there will only be two categories of people left: the saints and the damned!

You know, throughout the year we honor various canonized saints in the Church.  Their role is to inspire us and to intercede for us.  This month, for example, we celebrate the feast of St. Charles Borromeo on November 4; we celebrate the feast of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini on November 13 (she was the first American citizen ever to be canonized); and we celebrate the feast of St. Cecilia on November 22.

But the canonized saints are not the only saints there are!  Anyone who is in heaven is a saint—whether they’re officially canonized or not.  And that’s a lot of people—thankfully!—as St. John indicated in today’s first reading from Revelation 7.  There we were told that he saw a vision of all the saints in God’s eternal kingdom, and he described that group as “a great multitude which no one could count.”

That’s really good news!

Our first goal in this life should be to someday “be in that number” as the old song puts it.  Everything else should be secondary.

So today let’s ask the Lord to give us a deep, abiding desire to be a saint (or to deepen that desire within us if we already have it).  Because if we’re not passionate enough about being holy and reaching the goal of heaven, the fact is we might miss it.

And that would be the worst possible tragedy.

When it comes to sanctity, my brothers and sisters, what we all need is what I would call “a Vince Lombardi attitude.”  Vince Lombardi, of course, was the head coach of all those great Green Bay Packer football teams of the 1960s.   Now the quarterback of those great teams was a man named Bart Starr.  When Starr was being interviewed several years ago, he said this about Lombardi’s very first meeting with the Packers after he was named their head coach: “When [Coach Lombardi] walked into the meeting, he looked us right in the eye and he said, ‘Gentlemen, we’re going to relentlessly chase perfection, knowing full well we won’t catch it because nothing is perfect; but we’re going to relentlessly . . . chase it, because in the process we will catch excellence.’”

That’s a great insight!  Chase perfection; catch excellence.

And those Packer teams did catch excellence, to the tune of 5 world championships in only 9 years.

So, of course, did the Red Sox this year—to the joy of at least some of us!

We will never be perfect on this side of the grave when it comes to living the gospel of Jesus Christ.  That’s a fact; that’s just the way it is.  But if we relentlessly “chase moral and spiritual perfection,” by giving our lives to Jesus through daily prayer and faithful attendance at Mass; and by examining our consciences and going to confession regularly; and by forgiving others; and by striving to live lives of true faith and charity—in other words, if we have the same drive toward holiness that we have toward getting a good education and succeeding in so many other areas of life—then we can catch moral and spiritual “excellence”.

That is to say, we can be saints!

And that will bring us the most important crown of all—not the World Series championship or the Super Bowl title, but rather the crown that endures FOREVER: the crown of eternal life!