The solemnity of All Saints’ is quickly approaching and it is a feast that should cause our hearts to fill with hope because we are reminded that holiness is possible.
Our culture celebrates many things, from the trivial to the sinful, but it rarely holds up what is good, true and beautiful. November 1, is the celebration of All Saints’ Day. I want to highlight a few saints who can inspire us to answer the personal call to holiness that each of us received at our baptism.
The first important thing to remember is that each one of these saints was a human being like you—who was born into the world, grew up in a family, and received and responded to the love of Jesus Christ.
In the Archdiocese of Denver, we are blessed to have saints who have lived here or visited here, which makes becoming holy more present and real for us. First is St. Frances Cabrini, a woman who was rejected by every religious order she applied to because of her frail health but who was eventually able to found the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Mother Cabrini’s vocation to evangelize began to appear when she listened to her father read stories of missionaries taking the faith to China, and she dreamed that someday she would be able to do the same.
But God called her to minister to Italian immigrants living abroad; as Pope Leo XIII told her, “Not the East, but the West.” God’s call took her to New York, New Orleans, Chicago, Denver and Seattle, among other places. In each place, she sought out the needs of the poor and helpless, establishing schools, orphanages and hospitals.
Mother Cabrini stands as an example of a woman who persevered in following God’s call, even though her health and other obstacles sometimes stood in the way.
Another saintly person is Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. Even at the age of 17, Blessed Pier Giorgio was known for sharing his deep prayer life with everyone. Although he was the son of an influential Italian journalist turned politician, Pier Giorgio spent his time caring for the poor, sick and needy as he continued his education.
He also loved the mountains, as many people in this archdiocese do. “With every passing day,” he wrote to a friend, “I fall madly in love with the mountains; their fascination attracts me.” For Pier Giorgio, mountain climbing was a way to grow in virtue by challenging himself physically and mentally, as well as a chance to invite his companions to pray. His approach to climbing is summed up well in a phrase that he wrote on a picture of himself holding onto a rock and looking up at the summit – “Verso l’alto,” in English, “Toward the top.”
Blessed Pier Giorgio stands as an example of a young person who did not hold back anything from God but committed himself to reaching the heights of heaven.
When I think of those of you who are mothers, St. Gianna Beretta Molla comes to mind. St. Gianna was a wife, mother and physician known for her joy. After she discerned that God was calling her to marriage, she embraced it with complete enthusiasm and dedicated herself “to forming a truly Christian family.”
St. Gianna gave birth to four children, but when she was pregnant with her last child, Gianna Emanuela, she developed a tumor in her uterus. Her official biography says: “A few days before the child was due, although trusting as always in Providence, she was ready to give her life in order to save that of her child: ‘If you must decide between me and the child, do not hesitate: choose the child—I insist on it. Save him.’”
On April 21, 1962, Gianna Emanuela was born, but the doctors’ efforts to save both of them did not succeed. St. Gianna was remembered by Pope Paul VI in 1973 as “A young mother from the Diocese of Milan, who, to give life to her daughter, sacrificed her own, with conscious immolation.”
So many mothers daily lay their lives down in ways that, while they may not be as dramatic as St. Gianna’s sacrifice, still offer to you a sure path for holiness.
Finally, our archdiocese was richly blessed by the presence of Blessed Pope John Paul II, who will be recognized as a saint on April 27, 2014.
Much can be said about John Paul II, but I think that his willingness to live Jesus’ exhortation, “Be not afraid!” is one of the things that all of us can relate to.
He had many chances to be afraid in his life—from living under communist rule to being chosen to shepherd the global Church. But when he was faced with those challenges, Blessed John Paul II responded by trusting in God’s mercy and love. I think of him losing both his parents at a young age, being forced to study for the priesthood in secret, the assassination attempt by Mehemet Ali Agca, and, finally, his struggle with Parkinson’s, which eventually led to his death.
Soon-to-be St. John Paul II’s last words should serve as a challenge and an inspiration to all of us to strive for holiness to get to heaven, our true home: “Let me go to the house of the Father.”
This All Saints’ Day, I urge all of you to celebrate the truth that with God’s grace, holiness is possible. May you open your hearts to receive the mercy and love of Jesus Christ so that you may grow in holiness!