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"Are You a Saint?" Sunday, June 7, 2020 homily by Father François Beyrouti, Ph.D./D.Th.

Dear friends,
This is the link to Sunday's homily: https://youtu.be/crAMcaGPzww
The full text of the homily and the readings are below.

Are You a Saint?
Sunday June 7, 2020, homily by Father François Beyrouti, Ph.D./D.Th.
Hebrews 11:33-12:2. Matthew 10:32-38 & 19:27-30.
Sunday of All the Saints. First Sunday After Pentecost.

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With my prayers for you and your family,

Father François Beyrouti, Ph.D./D.Th.
Holy Cross Melkite Catholic Church
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Placentia, CA 92870-4537
(714) 985-1710
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Homily:
Are you a saint?

Most often when we speak of the saints, people think of the holy men and women who have died and have been officially canonized by the Church.

The official process of studying someone’s life after they die, then waiting for a miracle to take place before the Catholic Church officially recognizes that person is not always how saints were proclaimed throughout history. There was no official process when some of the earliest martyrs were venerated as saints, but the community of Catholic believers still recognized them as saints. Martyrs are men, women, and children who are killed for their faith in Christ. This started with St. Stephen in the Acts of the Apostles and continues until today.

The early Christians were hated for refusing to sacrifice to the pagan gods. They were asked to deny their faith in Christ or be killed. For example, St. Polycarp, the Bishop of Smyrna (modern day Ismir in Turkey) was martyred in 155. He was a disciple of St. John the Evangelist and was the last living person to have known the apostles.

We read in the account of his martyrdom: “Swear,” urged the Proconsul, “reproach Christ, and I will set you free.” “86 years have I have served him,” Polycarp declared, “and he has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?” “…I will have you burned” replied the Proconsul. “You threaten me with fire which burns for an hour, and is then extinguished, but you know nothing of the fire of the coming judgment and eternal punishment, reserved for the ungodly. Why are you waiting? Bring on whatever you want.” Replied St. Polycarp. He prayed, was thrown into a fire, and then was pierced to make sure he was dead.

Polycarp was immediately recognized as a saint by the Catholic community of the men and women who witnessed his life and death. However, The word saint does not only refer to those who were killed for their faith or those who the Church spends years studying their life in order to make an official proclamation on aspects of their holiness.

The word saint simply means holy. Therefore, the word holiness is not reserved only for those who have already died and are now in heaven. Holiness is for all of us since it is a daily walk with Christ. Holiness is first about what we do here on earth before where we are after we die. Those who are in heaven are holy because of the life they lived and because they are in the eternal presence of God who is holy, but we too are holy when we live in the presence of God and when the things we think, say, and do reflect that we are children of God. Holiness is always connected with our daily relationship with God. We do not grow in holiness by our strength or our own will. We become holy by being closer to God who is the fullness of holiness.

We emphasize that we are in the presence of God, the holy one, when we celebrate the Divine Liturgy. The priest and the people face the altar which traditionally is on the East side of the Church. When we pray we turn to God who is the light of our life and recognize that life, light, and all goodness come from Him. During the Divine Liturgy we also recognize God to be the most holy. That is why in one of the hymns we call God holy three times. Some things and people may be holy, but God is holy, holy, holy; that is the most holy.

This image is taken from the book of the Prophet Isaiah where he says: “In the year that King Uzzi'ah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and his train filled the temple. [2] Above him stood the seraphim; each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. [3] And one called to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.’ ” (Isaiah 6:1-3).

In the Bible, God is referred to as holy, but most often the word holy and saints is used to describe things and people here on earth. In the book of Exodus, God describes the ground around the bush where He appeared as “holy.” God tells Moses: “Do not come near; take off your shoes from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground’ ” (Exodus 3:5).

In the New Testament, above all the word holy and saints refers to people who are still alive. Saint Paul speaks about our body as holy. He says: “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God,” (Romans 12:1). Saint Paul also addresses the Christian community that gathers to pray as “saints.”

He begins his letter to the Ephesians: “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are also faithful in Christ Jesus: [2] Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph.1:1-2).

And finally, Saint Peter reminds the believers to be holy as God is holy. He says: “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, [15] but as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; [16] since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’ ” (1 Peter 1:14-16.
Cf. Lev. 11:44, 45; 19:2.).

When we look at all these verses we realize that God is holy, the saints who have died are holy, and we as men, women, and children who love God and the way of God are also holy. We may make mistakes, but so did the saints. We may get discouraged, but so did the saints. We may have doubts, but so did the saints. We all make mistakes, get discouraged, and have doubts, but holiness is reminding ourselves that God is walking with us during all these difficulties. Furthermore, because God is walking with us our weight gets lighter and our daily challenges become daily opportunities to grow in greater appreciation of God’s work in our lives. This is true holiness and this is the walk of the saints.

Holiness does not mean we are perfect, because no one is perfect except God. Holiness is when we allow God to work in us and through us, despite our imperfections. Holiness is also when we recognize our weakness and allow God’s strength to work in our brokenness.

On the Sunday following Pentecost, we celebrate All the Saints. This reminds us that the Holy Spirit lives in us to make us holy. This also reminds us that holiness is not a project that we work on alone. There have been millions of holy men, women, and children who have walked with God throughout history and we too are in a holy friendship with them. When we need strength we have their example to remind us how to persevere and to remain holy.

That is why in today’s Epistle we heard of the great things that many men and women did because of their faith in God. That is also why in today’s Gospel Jesus says: “anyone who does not take up his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me” (Matthew 10:38). This journey may seem difficult, but when we focus on God’s holiness and remind ourselves that many have successfully walked it, we then realize how possible it is.

Today as we celebrate all the saints, let us not forget to also include our name on that list since the men, women, and children in the icons were no different than us. Let us celebrate the saints and also the holiness that is in us and the holiness that is growing in us as we allow the holiness of God to work daily in our lives. If you do this, you are a saint living on this earth and preparing to be with the saints around the throne of God.

Readings:
A Reading from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Hebrews. (Heb 11:33-12:2).
Brethren, all of the saints by faith conquered kingdoms, wrought justice, obtained the fulfillment of promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, recovered strength from weakness, became valiant in battle, routed foreign armies. Women had their dead returned to them through resurrection. Others were tortured, refusing to yield for their release, in order to obtain a better resurrection. Others again suffered mockery and beatings, even chains and jailings. They were stoned, they were cut to pieces, they were put to the test, they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, anguished, afflicted (of whom the world was not worthy) wandering in deserts, mountains, caverns and holes in the ground. And all of these, in spite of the positive witnessing of faith, failed to receive what was promised, for God was keeping something better in store for us, so that they were not to reach their final perfection without us. (12:1) And so, having such a cloud of witnesses over us, let us get rid of every burden, and of the sin entangling us, and run with endurance to the fight proposed to us, contemplating the author and final end of faith, Jesus.

The Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew the Evangelist. Mt 10:32-38 & 19:27-30.
The Lord said to His disciples, “Everyone who acknowledges Me before men, I also will acknowledge before My Father in heaven. But whoever disowns Me before men, I in turn will disown before My Father in heaven. Anyone who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and anyone who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me; and anyone does not take up his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me.” Then Peter addressed him saying, “Behold, we have left all and followed You; what then shall we have?” And Jesus said to them, “Amen I say to you that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man shall sit on the throne of His glory, shall also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left house, or brothers, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and shall possess life everlasting. But many who are first now will be last, and many who are last now will be first.”

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