30th Sunday in Ordinary Time A

Before we really begin, how many of you believe you are a disciple of Christ.  (A good number of hands are raised.)  Good, we were at the Diocesan Autumn Gathering yesterday and someone said that they once asked the people of a really good parish if they thought they were disciples of Christ and no one thought they were.  I am glad we are doing pretty well.

I have spent the past week along with 28 of your brothers and sisters from our community in the shadow of saints as we were on pilgrimage to Montreal to visit the shrine of St. Kateri Tekakwitha and St. Joseph’s Oratory.  We were immersed in how they loved the Lord their God with all their strength, heart and soul and their neighbor as themselves as Jesus points us two in naming the two great commandments.  And whenever we take such a trip, we do not go alone but we bring with us the concerns, prayers, blessings and intentions of all of you.  And when we return, we share the story so that all of us can share in the holiness of our trek.

On Tuesday, we went to the Shrine of St. Kateri just outside Montreal.  I had the great privilege of presiding at mass and the rest of us celebrating the second anniversary of her canonization at her shrine church before her tomb and next to the portrait that hung at St. Peter’s on the day she was made a saint.  How cool is that?

If you have been to her birthplace in Auriesville or her shrine at Fonda, there is a very different feel to her shrine in Canada.  There are not the rolling hills and the forest we know from our local shrines that radiate such peace. Her shrine in Montreal is still in the midst of a Mohawk reservation hard by the banks of the river in just a little over an acre as opposed to the sprawling landscapes we have nearby.  Ironically, though, this was the place of her peace.  If the story of Kateri in New York State is one of perseverance in courage in accepting and practicing her faith despite the ferocious opposition of her family and her tribe, once she escaped to the Christian reservation of many tribes, she could breathe in and out all that mattered to her.  To love the Lord God with all her strength, heart and soul and her neighbor as herself.  Her faith was not ridiculed but immediately admired for the depth of her devotion.  She could and did spend hours in the harsh Canadian winter in the unheated chapel and when she had to leave for the hunt, she would carve a chapel out of the forest and of course, picked up sticks and tying them together to make the cross so she could marvel again at how much her savior loved her.  She showed her love for neighbor by sharing that faith in encouragement and admonishment. They loved her for it and her example was an inspiration that would ring through the centuries.

I have often said that it is a miracle that we even remember a single, Native American maiden and virgin 300 hundred years later.  She is an unexpected saint.  But if you are known for is how you love God with all your strength, mind and soul and your neighbor as yourself, then that holiness can never be forgotten.

The next day we went to the Oratory of St. Joseph, and when you go to the Oratory of St. Joseph, you meet Brother Andre, now St. Brother Andre.   Banners greet you as you drive up the long driveway to the Oratory and since I, like all people who have been to France for two days believe I can speak French, the banner of Brother Andre says, “Un ami. Un frère. Un saint. “  A friend.  A Brother. A Saint.  And as you hear his story you recognize he would not be a saint unless he were a friend and a brother.

Andre grew up poor and devout in Quebec.  This little man hustled for jobs in the United States, making friends he would keep in contact with his whole life.  And he would visit his friends and family in the States including sojourns to the Capital District which are fondly remembered. At the age of 30 he finally became a Brother of the Holy Cross and almost immediately lost his position in the order because he was considered to sickly (he would live to 91) and not intellectually capable of handling the duties of porter, a message conveyer at a School.

His lone goal was to love the Lord with all his heart, soul and mind. He had a tremendous (well that really undersells it) devotion to St. Joseph and a fervent belief in his intercession. He would apply the oil to anyone hurting and the array of thousands of crutches at the Oratory are a witness to his success. Soon they were lining up to hear and pray with this simple man.  He had a dream of building a small place to honor St. Joseph on Mont Royal, the mountain from which the city derives its name. With the help of his many friends, he managed to build a small outside prayer space of 4 meters by 5meters.  And they flocked to see it by the thousands until a church was built around it until that became too small and a large church was built next door that grew until it became one of the largest in the world and the largest shrine to St. Joseph anywhere.  All because of one man’s loving God with all his heart, soul and mind and his neighbor, anyone in need of anything as himself.  This unexpected little saint had a million people at his funeral.

And of course, we should talk about St. Joseph as well.  I believe that Brother Andre would want the focus on Joseph.  After all, he described himself as St. Joseph’s little dog.  What do we know about St. Joseph?  The Gospels call him a just man and that is proven when upon hearing that Mary his betrothed was pregnant, he decides to divorce her quietly rather than exposing her to the harsh and potentially capital punishment of the law.  He was simply trying to love God with all his heart, soul and mind. But when an angel informed him this was the miraculous work of God and asked if he could stick with them, he does not hesitate to follow the will of God. It must have been difficult.  Who among his friends would believe this literally incredible story?  Yet, his love of God and his love of neighbor especially that mother and that child, overcame all else.  Another unexpected saint simply trying to do God’s will.

And while at the Oratory we celebrated for the first time, the Feast of St. John Paul II.  No one could doubt the gifts of charisma and intellect in Karol .   But he too is unexpected saint. As walked into the conclave as a Cardinal, he could not have expected to come out a Pope. No non-Italian had been elected Pope in over 450 years.  But when he found himself thrust into this leadership, he could do nothing more than to live and encourage the faith he loved by loving God with all his heart, soul and mind.  And bringing that love to his neighbors by sharing the Gospel to every country on earth.

The stories of the saints challenge us.  We think we cannot live as heroically as they live or shape history as they did.  Their goodness creates a space between us.  But I can’t imagine the saints saw their only lives any differently.  They simply lived out the two great commandments of Jesus and found their joy in doing so.  We already know that love God and neighbor is the key to our joy.  No one looks back and enjoys thinking about the time they were mean or unloving and remember it as the best of times.  The moments that shaped our own history are the ones which flowed from our love of God and neighbor.  Every moment is a moment to make a saintly choice.  In God’s word. Christ’s body and blood and in the Holy Spirit within us, we can love God with all our heart, soul and mind and our neighbor as ourselves.  Nothing can prevent us.

A wise person once said the only tragedy in life is not to be a saint.   We can all choose that path for our lives.  After all, you raised your hands.  We are disciples of Jesus Christ.