Recognition is very important in any walk of life and when we fail to give people proper recognition for what they have achieved we somehow diminish our very humanity.
When someone retires from work we do not allow them to go home on their last day without a small party or some kind of presentation. We feel that we want to say thanks to them in a sort of official way for their companionship over the years and their contribution to the business.
Award ceremonies are also the staple of the media and we are very much aware of how actors, politicians, sportsmen and others are properly recognised by their respective professions. We also know that twice a year the Queen dishes out medals to an extremely wide range of people from across the country who deserve recognition for their achievements in various walks of life.
You might occasionally think that there are sometimes selfish motives involved when we give acknowledgement to others in this way. You might think that if we didn’t recognise other people’s achievements then perhaps no one would recognise our own particular accomplishments when it came to our turn.
I don’t agree; I think that recognising what other people have achieved in life is good for us all. It makes us notice the good deeds performed by others, it helps us to realise that they carry out these good works with no thought of reward and so gives us something we ourselves can aspire to. Recognising the virtue of other people actually builds up society and helps us all to become more altruistic.
The same goes for the Church; it has always given due recognition to those who have achieved something great for God. In the Church we do this by celebrating the feasts of various saints that occur throughout the year. We acknowledge their outstanding achievements and take pride in the wonders they have performed. But also today, on this special feast of All Saints, we express our gratitude to all those other more anonymous members of the Church who have gained entry into the heavenly kingdom.
You could call this great feast a sort of spiritual victory parade where we give honour to those who have run the race and achieved eternal life in heaven. We give them our respect and recognise the glory that they have attained; but we also take them as our examples and look to them for guidance on how we ourselves can gain heaven.
As we know there are millions of saints; most of them are very quiet and hidden but some burst onto the world like a tremendous shooting star or meteor so great are their gifts; and they are recognised by everyone, even by those with no religion at all. We can think of many wonderful examples such as St Francis of Assisi, St Thomas Aquinas, St Anthony of Padua, St Teresa of Avila, St Thomas More and many others. Great saints who lived spectacular lives!
We acknowledge also here in Wandsworth in particular St Thomas à Becket who was such an outstanding Archbishop of Canterbury and whose outspokenness in defence of the Church cost him his life.
But there are saints all around us too; living saints who achieve hardly any recognition at all. Many of them are just simple Catholics who come to mass as often as they can, who say their prayers devoutly and try to do good to those around them.
These people most likely do not regard themselves as anything special; they just think that they are doing what God would want them to do. But saints they are; and they will achieve as high a place in heaven as any of the more spectacular or gifted saints such as St Ignatius Loyola or St Therese of Lisieux.
But the great task that lies before us all is how we ourselves should become saints. Make no mistake about it, this is the only really serious task in life; it is the one thing that really matters. After all, what could be more important to us than where we spend eternity?
Realise that this is the destiny to which we are called by Jesus Christ himself. His whole aim is to lead us away from our own preoccupations, our own pet indulgences, our own obvious sinfulness into his wonderful light. In short, he wants us all to be saints. It is our true calling; it is the reason God made us. As St Catherine of Siena has said, “If you are what you should be, you will set the whole world ablaze!”
I am not speaking here about any saccharine coated, plaster-cast kind of a saint. I do not think that we are called to be anything other than what we truly are; our true human fulfilment cannot mean that we become some sort of otherworldly holy-Joe.
No, our task in life is to achieve true authenticity which means being faithful to our humanity and to our individual character. We can never do this by becoming something we are not. What God wants is for us to be good human beings rooted in the present day and deeply involved in the concerns of life but with an eye on heaven.
He wants us to be real flesh and blood human beings, but with the light of faith in our eyes. Above all he wants us to understand his purposes and aims. He wants us to be sharers in his mission of saving the world for God. This cannot mean we should become otherworldly; reciting rosaries rather than putting food on the table.
I heard a nice phrase once: “The man who hugs the altar rails usually doesn’t hug his own wife.” We do not need those who are obsessed with religion to the exclusion of all their other duties. Such people can never lead others to heaven. They are not wrapped up in God; they are wrapped up in themselves.
What we want is people who are full of the joys of life; people who are charismatic and attractive; people who understand the profound depths of the human heart. These are far more likely to lead us to God than sanctimonious, holier than thou kind of people.
My suggestion is to aim to achieve personal authenticity, which means putting aside any kind of falseness or artificiality and trying to live a genuine and true life; one which is faithful to the call of God.
Such a life will be lived in harmony and balance. There will be room for all our human duties and responsibilities in the family and at work or in education; but there will also be space for God and an appropriate spirituality. Living this kind of a life is surely the very best preparation you could ever find for living eternal life where our true destiny surely lies.
Father Alex McAllister SDS
Parish Priest of
St Thomas à Becket