Too often saints are depicted as people who are so extraordinary that we could never identify with them. Their commitment to God and virtue is unwavering, their trust in divine providence unshakable, and their unselfish service of others puts everything that we do to shame. Such a depiction is unfortunate, because someone who was not first a genuine human being would probably never grow into the kind of holiness to which we are all called.
What actually makes a saint? Extraordinary feats of courage or self-denial? No! It is the love that God has bestowed on us that makes us children of God. And as children of God, we are already saints, because divine life flows within us and through us. The differences between individuals have to do with the degree and character of our willingness to cooperate with God’s grace and to be like God.
Today we celebrate the lives of all those who have gone before us and have tried to live with integrity. Some of them, like Agnes or Francis of Assisi, are known to the entire church. Most of them are hidden in obscurity, known only to those who were in some way touched by their lives. But these are saints of God nonetheless, making up the vast multitude described in the first reading.
Many of us have known truly saintly people. We might have seen traces of God in the corner grocer, or the woman down the street or our own parents. Saints are children of God who “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb.” They are people who have plunged themselves into the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection and brought the fruits of their baptism to the lives that they lived.
The saints we have known are people who shared their possessions, who grieved over the tragedies of the world, who did not fall into the traps set by power plays, who sought to make the world better, who showed mercy, who lived authentically pious lives and who did what they could in the name of peace. They lived the beatitudes in their daily lives, even if they had to pay a price for their integrity. We all know such saints. And if we are honest, we must admit that we too can become saints as they did. When the saints come marching in, we can be in their number. We are already God’s children. With the grace of God, who knows what we might yet become?