Saints and Sinners

November is dedicated to the holy saints and holy souls who have gone before us.  Where we walk, they once walked.  Where they have gone, we hope to follow.  I remember touring catacombs of the dead in Sicily.  On display were real skeletons of the dead, and they spoke out to us from the grave; the sign read: “You are where we once stood, we are where you will one day be.”  It was a macabre setting, but a sobering message.  All around you this past week you saw the orange and black colors of Halloween.  They are the colors of the orange pure beeswax candles and black bunting used in the ancient Catholic Funeral Masses before Vatican II.  Halloween is the night of the ghouls and goblins, but for us Christians, All Saints Day overshadows death with the triumphant victory of the saints about whom we have studied:  Saint Augustine, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Saint Martin of Tours, Saint Bernadette.  All Souls is the day we remember those people we actually knew in this life:  your mother, your father, your child, your teacher, your friend who now lives with God in eternal joy.  Jesus tells us in the gospel:  “This is the will of my heavenly Father:  that I should not lose anything He gave to me, but raise it on the last day.”  God wants us to live with Him forever and He gives us every chance in this life, and even after we die.  This is why we continuously offer Masses for the dead—to assist them to heaven.  I hope you have enrolled your deceased loved ones in the nine-day novena of Masses offered in every church throughout the world beginning on All Souls Day, November 2.

Pope Benedict XVI has spoken words that are essential to remember: “Every saint had a past, but every sinner has a future.”  Please remember those words.  Saints did not always begin their lives well, but they finished well.  St. Augustine, Saint Thomas Becket and others had dubious and selfish beginnings, but faithful and glorious endings to their lives.  The process toward sainthood is not always pleasant, it can be purgative, so as to burn away the dross and leave only the gold.   Saul was knocked off a horse, other saints were rejected and persecuted.  They were ordinary people who did ordinary things extraordinarily well.  After 30 long years of his mother’s prayers for his conversion, the great Saint Augustine received baptism at the hands of Saint Ambrose.  He went from rogue to Christian, to priest, to bishop, to saint.  And in the end, he made the profound statement: “Too late have I come to love Thee, Lord.”  Why did I waste so much time on myself?  Why didn’t I love you sooner Lord?

And then there are times when things can go tragically wrong. There is an old apocryphal story about a young man named Pietro Bandinelli.  It is one of my favorite stories.  When Leonardo daVinci spent years painting the masterpiece “The Last Supper” he scoured Italy for the models of each apostle.  He selected a young man named Pietro Bandinelli who looked exactly as a striking vision of Jesus.  His presence conveyed the virtues of Jesus’ compassion, gentleness and holiness.  Bandinelli sat for daVinci to let his face be used for Christ.  Many years went by but daVinci had not yet finished the painting.  He finished Peter, James, Thomas, John, and then the last was Judas the traitor.  It had to be someone who conveyed despair, hopelessness and sin.  He found his Judas in a prison.  As the portrait was near to completion Judas became despairing in grief.  “Do you not remember me?” asked Judas.  “I am Pietro Bandinelli.  I was the model for your Jesus.”  His life of innocence and holiness had decayed into crime, despair and sin.  Bandinelli had made the greatest of all mistakes; he had gone from saint to sinner.

– Fr. Gerard Gordon