Print Version November 1st, 2004
I’m suffering from deja vu all over again. The last time I preached on All Saints Day was a Sunday exactly four years ago but half a world away in Oakland, California. Then, like now, it was just a couple of days before a presidential election. A couple of wars later, the decisions placed before the people of that parish seem even weightier than they did at the time—those choices have changed the world for all of us. And who knows what next Tuesday’s choosing will bring?
What is sanctity but a habit of making good choices? Today, All Saints day, we find ourselves calling on all those holy women and men through the ages who have chosen well. Sometimes the choices were big, heroic ones that won them martyrdom. Sometimes little daily choices that shaped their lives into a pattern that Jesus might have lived if he were in their shoes. The astonishing thing is that so few of the saints we honour today ever had the freedom and responsibility that we do: the chance to vote. And that’s a problem for us because we don’t yet know how to be holy people and political people at the same time. We have so few examples. Our saints have taught us how to be holy in our private lives; they have shown us about charity, heroism, honour, piety, virtue, forgiveness, even resistance. They have shown us how to die and how to live … but they have not shown us how to vote. We desperately need to have living examples of ordinary, political holiness. Not just theories—God knows we have theories—but witnesses; lives given, choices written in flesh and tested in blood.
The American scene gives us a Polaroid picture of the problems you get when religion and politics mix. Lots of heat but very little light. Is that where saints are being made? Or sinners?
But what about the rest of us, in our own political scene, wherever we find it, how do we do that? Make holy political choices with so few saints to guide us. Not just at voting time but every day.
The Church offers us the Beatitudes to help us think about our choices. A simple question: where is Jesus’ heart? And a striking answer: With those whose spirit is broken, those who have lost what they loved, those without a voice, those who yearn for the bread of justice. On the side of mercy not punishment, at home with passion not comfort, with the ones who risk peace beyond the ease of anger.
Taking Jesus at his impractical word would surely challenge our political system to the core. And maybe make some saints along the way.