Sunday, November 27, 2011

Towards An Intense Watchfulness

Today we begin the holy season of Advent, a time of joyful waiting, of intense watchfulness and a period of preparation. Advent is a kind of a prelude, a kind of a lead in, especially since it comes so timely before the main event, our celebration of Christmas.

But as you must have realized by now, we don’t celebrate Christmas just to recall what happened over two thousand years ago. There’s more to that birthing event of a young virgin that took place in Bethlehem. We celebrate Christmas as an act of rejoicing in our God who entered our world amidst its brokenness and continues to do in the same manner up to this very moment. Hence, as a faith community, we spend a good part of this holy season preparing and opening ourselves up to our Lord Jesus, inviting him to enter into our lives and asking him to be part of all that we do and all that we are.

On this relatively short season of Advent, we are going to consider two encounters. The first is quite obvious. We know what’s coming in precisely twenty-seven days, or better yet, who is coming. It’s our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the Word Made Flesh, the Prince of Peace. 

There is, however, another "encounter" we are asked to consider during this holy season of Advent. It’s the encounter that is yet to come; when each of us meets up with our Lord and Maker face to face after our time on this earth shall have ceased or the day Jesus finally returns, whichever comes first.

This is the encounter most of us don’t really care for or don’t like to think about. To some respect, such uncaring attitude seems understandable; after all, we’re certainly not proud of everything we’ve done. Besides, we’re not too sure whether there’ll be that accounting of those times when we willfully chose to miss those opportunities of being co-workers with Christ for the whole time we decided to be his disciples.

Those are pretty good reasons why some would rather not think about it. And yet, it is an inevitable meeting for every single one of us. That confrontation will surely come to pass. As we start the new season of Advent, it is this “encounter”, the one which is yet to come, that we are reminded of and are enjoined to prepare for. It is for this encounter that today’s gospel reading warns us of, so that when our Lord comes, we shall all be ready for it.

Mark the Evangelist writes of a visualization of the Parousia, (the Greek word commonly used to refer to the Second Coming of the Son of God). Thru this visualization, Mark gives his readers ample room for fertile imagination. He writes of how Jesus gave his disciples some preview of what his Parousia would look like. That event would have a cataclysmic character and with the gravity of such descriptions, Mark’s listeners, and that includes us as well, are consequently made to believe that there is no way of escaping this ultimate confrontation. Christ’s Second Coming is not a question of “if” He comes; rather, it is a matter of “when”.

Aware that it is but natural for his disciples to figure things out and put things in their proper perspective, Jesus further warns them and us, that there is just no way of knowing when this Final Day of his return would take place. He then tells that the best thing we all could do is just be prepared. He says “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come”. (Mark 13:32-33)

This is the message most Christians are hearing today: to be watchful; to be aware; to be alert. We are also asked to be as intensely watchful as that trusted doorkeeper in the parable who needs to be in joyful expectation for the return of his master. Just bear in mind, however, there’s no way of knowing when will that be.

This message has been with the early church and has continued to be passed on to us. It is a clear message that there’s just no way of knowing all these. And yet, there had been occasions when some individuals just don’t get it. They think they have a special way of knowing the big “when”.

In the late 19th Century in America, there was a great interest for prophecies predicting the actual date for Christ’s Second Coming. One such prediction was crafted by an Adventist “prophet” named William Miller (1782-1849). By the way, it is in this movement that both the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Seventh Day Adventists find their roots. William Miller first predicted that Christ’s Second Coming would take place on March 21, 1842, but then revised the date to April 3, 1843. Over 3,500 of his followers flocked at the Boston Advent Temple, only to be disappointed. The Doomsday never took place.

You might have thought that the movement would have died. But it didn’t. Rather it continued to grow. Miller decided to recalculate his date for the “correct” Second Coming and soon published a new date - April 18, 1844.  When the “Parousia” did not take place on that date, there was again frustration and some followers left the Adventist ranks. Undeterred by these failures, Miller came up with a third date; the “real” correct one and it would be on October 22, 1844. As doomsday approached, the Millerites began to prepare. But as it was with the rest of his "correct" predictions, there was no Second Coming.

And you think people would have heeded the message, which was clear to begin with. No and there were more. Not too long ago, this minister from Alameda, California, named Harold Camping did it again. He was so sure that the world would end in May of this year but again, his doomsday prediction proved wrong. Just like William Miller before, he had to “recalculate”the date. According to his second prediction, the “correct” one, the world would have ended last October 21, 2011. It never did, We’re still here. He again wondered what went wrong as he did in each of the previous 12 predictions he made in the past.

Needless to say, there appears to be a great push for the “preparation” for this “Second Encounter” and that would have been all right; had it not been for the prediction of the day and the time. I could only wish that people like Miller and Camping had heeded the message, simple as it is. “Beware, be watchful and be alert. No one knows but the Father.” Can it be any simpler than that?

As an alternative and still in keeping with what Jesus wants us to do, let me give you a few suggestions about what we could do as we continue to wait for Jesus’ Second Coming.

At the top of my list is for us to “Be faithful". Jesus said that even He does not know the day or the hour and no one does, except the Father. In the meantime, we all could just be a people of faith. Keep living out the faith that you profess to nurture when, at baptism, you were grafted to the Body of Christ, the Church. Remember that Jesus has never broken a promise yet and He never will. He said He will return and we just have to believe that he will and not to worry when.

The next one that readily comes to mind is for us to “Be diligent.”  Jesus will come unexpectedly, so be ready at any time to take the call of the Savior when He makes it. Let us not deceive ourselves that since there’s a good chance He won’t come during our lifetime that we can play hooky and not worry about the whole “preparation” thing. Instead, live each and every day like it is the day that Jesus will come back because it just might be today.

Lastly, I urge you to “Be watchful.” Jesus called His disciples to be vigilant because He would be coming back at an hour they would not know. Christ will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead; and we are reminded that we must prepare for his coming and live in readiness to receive him.  

Let us make good use of the time appointed for this “getting ready”, this “preparedness” that we Christians are being enjoined. At this Advent season, let us give ourselves that extra time to just simply think of the big question of whether or not we are ready for His Second Coming.

Indeed, “beware, be alert and be ready”. No one knows when the Second Coming will be. In the meantime, labor towards an intense watchfulness. It will be to your advantage and that’s for sure!

Have a blessed Advent.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Let Christ the King Occupy Our Lives

Since mid-September of this year, the media had been talking about this new thing called “Occupy Movement”. Most TV channels, when airing their newscast, would have reports about this movement which have lately been identified with local places of action, as in Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Oakland, Occupy San Francisco, Occupy London, to name just a few.

Having grown worldwide, the "Occupy Movement" has attracted public attention; perhaps because of the violence that seems to dovetail with almost all of the protests. Due to this emphasis on the negative side, a good number of the public have remained uninformed on the very reason for its being, its raison d’être.

I am among those who may have a minimal knowledge of the intricate web of design behind how the movement has now evolved into what it is. Yet, on the other hand, I am aware of its formative beginnings and of how this was chosen as the venue to lodge protests against those that wield economic power in our society.

The “Occupy Movement”, minus the violence erupting from confrontations and minus the encampments and the horrible images affixed to them, was and still is a timely recourse when calling for an end of the injustices that emanate from those economic structures and systems that have become oppressive to the ones referred to as the 99%.  

This claim for its justification and timeliness validates the continued proliferation of injustices in different cultures, time and place. How true, indeed, that forms of injustices have been so much a part of history and while efforts to correct them have produced dissimilar results, the common thread is that they’ll remain with us, until someone fashions the right “Occupy Movement” in the future.

Perhaps, it will come to pass at the day of Final Reckoning, the End of Ages, when the King of kings and Lord of lords will address the dissolution of all forms of injustices and supplant them with acts of mercy, love and forgiveness. For now, I guess, we should “wait a time with patience” and perhaps, use the present moment as a window of opportunity to learn how some forms of injustices had been addressed in the past.

Of particular interest to us would be the injustices that have befallen our forefathers in our Judeao-Christian heritage. The Book of the prophet Ezekiel contains imageries that allude to injustices and how these were played out in the relationship between God, His people Israel and those to whom leadership had been entrusted. Ezekiel uses the image of sheep and shepherds to represent the relationship between Israel and those who have power and authority over them. The failure of the shepherds in safeguarding the sheep entrusted to their care is a picture of the same failure that Israel’s leaders are guilty of, towards the discharge of their duties.

These accusations are found in Chapter 34 of the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel. What we have in today's reading (Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24) is the continuation of God’s critique of the abuse of power among His people, and a description of God’s alternative ways of resolving those injustices. Ezekiel, as he does in the preceding verses, again employs the image of a flock of sheep and shepherds and says that there have been strong sheep that have thrown their weight around to bully and abuse the weaker ones. The allusion to injustice is that in the process of bullying and abusing, the stronger ones have reserved all the best pasture for themselves and grown fat on it, while those they bullied have become skinny and weak.

What we have in the description of guilty shepherds and bullying sheep is a picture of injustice; of power being selfishly wielded for its very own benefit. To use the lingo of the “Occupy Movement”, it’s the 1%, the ones who wield the scepter of economic authority, who exercise their power in order to improve their own investments, their “pasture” so to speak, with no thought for the needs of others, the so called 99%.

Similar to the ovine imagery of “butting and pushing with flank and shoulder” and edging out the rest of the flock, particularly the weaker ones, our contemporary scenario points to how this has become the normal pattern of the way things operate. And this has to stop.

Ezekiel tells of God’s way to curb this injustice; of God denouncing such power hoarder and promises a very different kind of leadership. Yahweh, through the Prophet Ezekiel, says: “I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land. I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord GOD. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.”  (NRSV Ezekiel 35: 12b-16)

What we have here is a total contrast between Israel’s leaders’ unjust ways and Yahweh’s acts of justice! It is a description of power, exercised not for its own sake, but for the benefit of the people, and especially for the benefit of those who are bereft of power, the lost, the strayed, the wounded, the ones without adequate resources.

This is so similar with the hopes and expectations that the 99% of the “Occupy Movement” continue to carry on amidst harmful threats and the duplicity of the very injustices they seek to overthrow.

While the images of encampments and police abuse could be troubling, all that the protesters really care for is to be “fed with good pasture; for their injured brothers and sisters to be bound up; for their fellow weak compatriots to be strengthened ” and to perhaps share the comforts that those in the 1% are lavishing on their own. 

The alternative ways that Yahweh wants to bring back to His people are illustrative of a power that is good, healthy and life giving. This is what the world needs now. However, without trustworthy leaders to exercise such power, the world will remain a dangerous and frightening place to live in. The “skinny and weak sheep”, those living in the margins of society, would be even more defenseless and vulnerable to the abusive games of corrupt power hoarders. There will be the 99% unless the 1% gives up their deeply guarded systems and structures.

On the other hand, good power is selfless and self-giving and just as Yahweh wished it to be brought back to His chosen, so has it been made available to us, the Body of Christ; the Church, the new Israel. And that could be an overwhelming responsibility should we decide to take such offer. The ones who are willing to take it need to remain prayerful and mindful of others.

Our very nature often makes it hard for us to fulfill such calling. For example, it is quite easy to confuse our own needs with those of others, just as it is very tempting to lobby for others especially when there are strings attached to such an advocacy. With access to such power, we need to constantly model ourselves with the Great One, the Son of God, whose leadership is modeled on servanthood.  

Brothers and Sisters in the Lord, today we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King. Jesus Christ modeled the proper use of power by modeling his kingship on servanthood. And while that may sound as the best oxymoron, kingship and leadership could really become service-oriented. It will be the wielding of power we talked about earlier; power that is for the benefit of others, for the good of those in the 99%.

Our gospel reading for this Sunday (Matthew 25:31-46) gives us a picture of the End of Times, when the Eternal Judge will separate the “sheep from the goats”, the ones who handled their “power” for the good of others from those who handled theirs for their own benefit. The ones who will be invited to enter God’s Kingdom are those who have used their power to “give food to the hungry, give drink to the thirsty; welcome the stranger, clothe the naked; take care of the sick and visit those in prison”.

What have we done with the “power” that has been given us at baptism; the power to assert and make known the Christ that is in us? Have we done anything worthy of emulation? Christ the King would love to hear from us. I invite you then to let Christ Jesus, the King of kings and Lord of lords, to occupy our hearts and our lives. 

Let Christ the King occupy our whole being!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

We Got Talent

I’ve been noticing for quite some time now that many churchgoers end up getting “bothered” after listening to the gospel lesson popularly referred to as “The Parable of the Talents” (Matthew 25:14-30). This is specially so when it’s read on the Sunday designated as Commitment Sunday or Stewardship Sunday.

And why is this? You see, Commitment Sunday or Stewardship Sunday is when preachers often give hard and harsh sermons about stewardship. And when they do,  they never miss talking about “giving”, giving that hopefully comes from the heart and is reflective of the decision someone has made, after going through a time of discernment about the whole issue of stewardship.

It’s also the time when parishioners hear of their pastor’s appeal about their pledge of giving their gifts of the elusive Triple T’s, namely, Time, Talent and Treasure. In most cases, preachers during this particular Sunday usually choose an appropriate passage from the Bible as their basis for making such an appeal.

And I tell you, there’s probably no better text a preacher can use than this “Parable of the Talents”, which incidentally is the gospel lesson for today which also happens to be our Commitment Sunday.

This particular parable tells us about a man, a landowner of some sort, who was about to go on a journey but first, had to leave his property in the hands of his servants, including some huge financial resources. The story continues with how the said servants “managed” the resources, the “talents”, that were entrusted to them.

A “talent” by the way is a huge, huge sum of money. It should not be confused with the word “talent” as we know and use it nowadays, as in one’s “talent” to play musical instruments or write poetry or something along this line. The word “talent” as used in the gospel story is about big financial resources. Lots of “moolah”.

The story continues to say that the servant who got five talents doubled his. He must have been an excellent investor choosing the right “stocks” of his day. The same is true with the second one, who also doubled his two talents. The third one, however, did very poorly. He hid the talent given him and when the landowner came back and asked what he did with it, he simply dug it up from where he hid it and gave it back to the landowner.

It then describes how the landowner was so displeased with his servant’s inability to do what was expected of him. Towards the end of the story, you read the following: “For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 25:29-30)

So let me ask you what kind of reaction some people have upon hearing the part about being “thrown into the outer darkness.” They feel “bothered” because they begin to feel the weight of this thing called “guilt”. Parishioners feel “guilty” simply because this parable seems to be telling them that they better emulate the two servants who did very well with what was entrusted them and not be like the third one who did poorly. They’re afraid to be like the third one, especially since the Bible says: “As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." (Matthew 25:30) So with this sense of guilt, they go back and re-write their pledge form and add more to their pledged amount. And that’s what I’m beginning to wonder just about now; whether there’ll be those who, upon hearing this gospel lesson, will re-write their pledge forms and give even more. Well, if there are some who will really do that, I assure you, your Stewardship Committee won’t stop you from doing it. 

Quite seriously, though, I know that you won’t be “bothered” with that ‘guilt’ reaction that others may have with this particular parable. In fact, there are other things that might be of interest to us.

On top of my list is that it tells us that God gives each person different gifts. The varying number of “talents” that the landowner entrusted to his servants demonstrated this. One, got five; the other received two and the third servant had only one. There was no issue as to why the one got five, the other got two and the last got only one.

Despite our tendencies to always compare ourselves with others, or how our gifts and talents fair with those we know, the actual number and quality matters not. We are only asked to make full use of what we have been uniquely given and to use them not just for our personal benefit for the good of the community as a whole.

The next thing we can glean from this parable is that our work as responsible stewards of the diverse gifts given to us is never completed. The first two servants showed their Master how much they had earned; and while they were commended for a job well done, nonetheless, they were not told they could sit back, put their feet up and relax. Instead and mainly because of their trustworthiness, both were given even greater responsibilities. This is reflected in what the Master told them. “I will put you in charge of many things.”

The third lesson we can infer from the story is that the inability of the individual to do something with what is given him gets a corresponding consequence. The servant with one talent did not lose what was given him and he was not penalized for that. However, we read of the consequence he received precisely because he did not do anything at all with it. This is in the area of what we call “sin of omission”. If he had tried and failed, he would have met some compassion or even forgiveness. It is important to remember that “We Got Talent”, however miserable it might look and we better do something about it.

It is a sober reminder for us all that it is not just those who do evil deeds who will lose out but also those who have no positively good works to show. In other passages in the Bible, we are told that the basis of one’s status at Judgment Day will be on whether “we fed the hungry and the poor and whether we visited the sick and those in prison”. Again, it’s what we do or not do with what we’ve been given that, in the end, matters.

And finally, something needs to be said about the part that says “to the one who has more will be given; from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away”. At the outset, it seems unfair, like robbing the poor to pay the rich. What I think is meant here is that those who share generously the gifts they have been given are likely to find themselves constantly enriched. And equally so, those who jealously preserve what they have been given, or hoard them or retire to their shell in fear of the outside world, are likely to shrivel up and die. As has been pointed out elsewhere, “those who save their lives will lose it.” Those who share generously what they have with others, will find themselves immeasurably enriched.

Brothers and sisters in the Lord, the Parable of the Talents teaches us to boldly prefer taking active risk in our lives than mere passive complacency.  It tells the way Jesus will act with us when we do not utilize properly the talents he has so generously given us and for our failure to make them to benefit others.

In this parable the man who was about to go on a journey and who summoned his slaves is an allusion to our Lord and Savior Jesus. As the man entrusted his slaves with some talents, Jesus also entrusted us with a variety of gifts that have been bestowed upon us through the power of the Holy Spirit. Through his gratuitous invitation, we are afforded the opportunity to become children of God. He has given us the opportunity to come closer to him through the Holy Spirit and the Eucharist.

As the landowner in the Parable of the Talents expected his servants to invest the talents he had left them with in order to be fruitful, so does the Lord Jesus expect us to be fruitful. He expects us to appreciate all of the gifts that have been given us, not so much as in a naïve “appreciation” per se but more so in utilizing them to their greatest potential. Our personal efforts and growth to mature spiritually in Christ are the end results that the Lord expects of those who decide to follow him. 

It is quite noticeable that, although the parable applies to an eschatological setting, the qualities praised here are of human nature as we know them in the here and now; diligence, perseverance and hard work. The parable seems to imply that there's a big room for everyone; for their initiative and creativity and for the personal involvement of each servant in answering how to use best the given talents. Indeed, it is those servants who assume their responsibility and put their minds and hearts into creative ways of multiplying their capital who get their laurels of praise.

The Gospel of today also focuses more sharply on the Christian attitude towards earthly life as we live in expectation of the Master’s return. This passage, however, goes further in pinpointing the ultimate purpose of our activities. The parable provides some advice on what can be done in the meantime between Christ’s resurrection and his final return, the Parousia. It bids us to make good use of the talents entrusted to us so that we may be ready to face him when he calls us to give account at the end of the ages.

For now, use your talents wisely. After all, “we got talent”. 

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Aim High By Aiming Low

I recently had a conversation with Peter, one of the “Lost Boys of Sudan”.  I met him and a few others of his group at the “Everyone Everywhere Mission Conference” held at the YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park, Colorado last month.

Aware of some of the real distresses and imminent dangers that his group, the so-called “Lost Boys of Sudan” had gone through, I asked Peter if he could share to me his story and how he ended up here in the United States and eventually at the Mission Conference.

Peter obliged and he began by saying that he thought he was probably 5 years old, or that someone must have told him that he was 5, and he was one of the thousands of young boys who were let go by their families in the hope that they’ll survive the killings and other horrendous atrocities of the conflicted parties in the southern part of Sudan.

He still remembers how death was their constant companion; taking hundreds if not thousands on their way to what they were told a “better life”. He did not give me graphic descriptions of their experience and yet was able to impress upon me the seriousness and severity of their travels, constantly being exposed to heat and fatigue; the absence of food and water and the attacks of wild animals.

His group had their first taste of their version of “Promised Land” in a Refugee Camp in the neighboring country of Ethiopia but it was short-lived.  His group, or what was left of them, eventually ended up in the Refugee Camps in Kakuma, Kenya where they saw the dawn of a relatively better future. Through the benevolence of refugee groups, both from the United Nations and other non-governmental organizations, those boys were restored to a life of dignity and found a new family of their own.

Peter was one of the lucky ones who were brought to the US and he was one of the recipients of the help extended through ERD or the Episcopal Relief and Development of The Episcopal Church. That tie would explain how he was able to attend the conference in Estes Park, Colorado.

Towards the end of our conversation, Peter looked me straight in the eye and told me that what kept them going was the lesson they learned from their elders: “to aim high; dream big and pursue that dream.” 

I was touched by that remark not so much that at five years of age he had it already etched in him but more of the fact that his group, his wider community, shared that same vision of aiming high and pursuing lofty dreams. At first, I thought it was more than likely just the need to survive that kept them going but in hindsight, I thought it was indeed their “aiming high and dreaming and pursuing big dreams” that brought them to where they are today.

The group that was with us in Colorado displayed an image reflective of their having reaped the fruits of their dream and I’m truly happy that they and others have seen the dawn of a better tomorrow, by their “aiming high; dreaming and pursuing their big dream”.

Often in life, it’s important to aim high. There is something about those who lived a life similar to the ones lived by the “Lost Boys” that breeds and feeds the importance of aiming high in life. And while the need to “aim high” is often attributed mainly to the ones who don’t have the comforts in life, as we in the West know them to be, such, however, is only half true. The other half tells us that it’s not only the poor who dream dreams, lofty or otherwise. The sad thing is that there are those who already have the luxuries in life and yet continue to aim even higher, dream even bigger dreams and pursue them relentlessly, often at the expense of other people.

If we take a closer look at how life in the more affluent countries like America gets lived out, we would surely see good examples of this. We live in an economic system that promotes competition.  For example, it is often the case that our mentors start us young by telling us that those who do excel in school tend to get the “best” jobs. So what do we do? Right. We “aim high; dream big and pursue our dream”.

Another example could be that out there among the labor force, again, we are told that those who work the hardest at their jobs are much more likely to get promotions and advance in their chosen career. They would be the ones who would climb their career ladder much faster compared to those who merely “do a job”. So what do we do? Right. We “aim high; dream big and pursue our dream”.

I’m sure you know other people who pursued lofty goals and accomplished great things in life. Yes, many of us here and in other countries too, seem to be almost hard-wired to aim high in life, hoping to get a bigger slice of the proverbial pie.

Today, we gather to celebrate a different breed of “high aimers” and “big dreamers”.  Yes, they’re the ones who “aim high and dream big dreams and pursue those big dreams” but in a different plane. They are called saints and today we celebrate this special day of remembrance in their honor.

It should not come as a surprise that the saints aimed high in matters of faith in a much different way than we do in many areas of our lives.  Their “aiming high” was not for their own gain or their own advancement in a world of material things. Their “aiming high” secured them little in this field but would have demanded more from them instead. Their “aiming high” was probably seen by some as unbecoming of citizens of a society that values wealth and prosperity, yet they forged on with their eyes focused in their singular vision.

The saints – the countless men and women who have gone before us to that “undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns”; and who now have a place at the heavenly banquet – aimed high by aiming low.

Yes, you heard me right. The saints aimed high precisely by aiming low; no matter how diametrically opposing that may look.  Their “aiming low” manifested itself in their lives in ways reflected in the Beatitudes we just heard proclaimed in today’s Gospel.

First, the saints were able to embrace their own “lowliness”, embracing the very spirit of the words Jesus spoke.  They knew the importance of being poor in spirit, meek, merciful, peacemakers and clean of heart.  They were able to refuse the beckoning of self-indulgence, self-centeredness and self-glorification. Instead, they knew how and where they were grounded in this world in relation to God – they stand firm in a place of complete dependence, hope and trust.    

Secondly, the saints understood the importance of “aiming low” by having a special place in their hearts for the “least” among us, for those who are marginalized in society: the poor, the forgotten, the neglected, the outcast and the outsider. These “least” among us had a special place in the hearts of the saints having realized that the “least” had the same special place in the heart of Jesus. The saints were in a very real sense able to resist the temptation to turn towards vicious allurements and licentious habits, and instead were able to direct the love and blessings they had received from God toward others, toward those who needed them the most.

Today we gather as a faith community and as disciples on a mission, to remember the giants of the faith; men and women who understood the value of aiming high, not in improving their material comforts in life but in matters of faith. We lift up those men and women who lived life intently focused on where they wanted to go, how they wanted to live and most importantly, whom they wanted to serve.

We also gather today not only to remember them but also to give thanks to God for them, to ask for their prayers, and to look at the deeds they have shown in their lives, some great while others simple, that we may learn and emulate them in the best way we can. 
It is not uncommon to have baptisms done when we celebrate All Saints’ Day and when we do, as we have done in the past, we are afforded the opportunity to express our intention to persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever we fall into sin, to repent and return to the Lord. It’s also that time when get the opportunity to affirm our willingness to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ and to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves. It’s also our chance to signify our intention to strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.

On those occasions when we, as a faith community, join each other in re-affirming our baptismal covenant, we also remind ourselves of our calling to become the saints that we can be. Striving to be a saint is the call of each of us.  And the process really hasn’t changed much in all those years.  It’s still about pouring out our lives in service of others, for the forgotten ones in our midst – by remembering them, befriending them, comforting them and providing for them. 

It may seem completely out of reach and unrealistic for most of us.  It may seem nearly impossible, given our own faults and weaknesses and it surely looks like a tall order. It is for this reason that we often retreat back to our cocoon of indifference: “I’m more of a sinner than a saint.”

Yet, that should not dampen our spirit to live the calling we could do, loving our neighbor and those who might have distanced themselves from us.  Just like in the case of my friend Peter, one of the “Lost Boys of Sudan”, the dangers that may come our way as we continue to walk our faith journey could look so gravely insurmountable. But just like him, so we should never be afraid to aim high, for that is our calling: “to aim high by aiming low”.