Some of those “capital S” church saints have lived lives that seem almost impossible to imagine. People such as St. Francis of Assisi, and St. Mother Theresa lived in ways that we will never even come close to. Both of them gave their lives to the service of the poor. St. Francis by giving away all that he had and helping to feed and clothe lepers in Assisi, and Mother Theresa by taking care of the poor and those with AIDS in India. Lest we think that their lives were all joy and happiness, both of them had their own struggles with feeling God’s absence; both of them dealt with the ridicule of others; I have no doubt that due to the harshness of their lives that both of them had to deal with hunger and sometimes extreme discomfort.
On our altar today, we have photographs and tokens of remembrance of some of those saints that we have known personally; people in our own lives whose lives have touched ours in someways; parents, siblings, friends, children, spouses; and perhaps they will not be remembered by the church at large, but they will be remembered by us, and we live in the hope that we will one day be joined with them around God’s table at the great banquet. I would like to tell you a little about one of the saints in my life, my dear friend and mentor, Bill Mahedy, who died in 2011. By his own admission, Bill had reached curmudgeon status long before he died. I miss being able to call him and talk to him about stuff… and I could talk to him about anything. One of the things that I miss most about him is being supported by his absolute loyalty. When I met Bill, he was the college and young adult chaplain for the diocese of San Diego… he was also involved for many years as a VA chaplain, working with Vietnam Veterans, work that he did right up until he died. If Bill loved you, or even mostly liked you, there was very little that you could do to change his mind about you; that man was loyal to a fault… and let me tell you, we young adults were not always the most well behaved bunch; but no matter what, we could count on the good Padre to have our backs, and help us get out of whatever nonsense we found ourselves in…That is the kind of friendship you don’t get to have with just anyone. I was fortunate enough to be able to visit Bill a couple of weeks before he died; we gave each other our priestly blessings, and I said, “Well Bill, save me a seat at the banquet”. “Trace” he said, “just holler YO! when you get there so I’ll know to come find you.” Two friends, saying goodbye for the last time, hoping and knowing that one day they would say hello again. Or Yo. Same thing. Bill was one of the people who led me toward priesthood, but never let me take myself too seriously. He and I laughed at each other, and shook our fists at injustice. That man could curse up a blue streak in one breath and preach the most amazing sermon in the next. He certainly was not a perfect person; but I loved him dearly, and I know he loved me in spite of myself some days. He was my mentor and my friend, and I will forever be grateful for his salty, curmudgeonly influence in my life.
That is the way of the saints in our life; not perfect people by any stretch. Even the “capital S” saints weren’t perfect people, although we often see them that way. What IS important about all of the saints in our lives, is that there is something about their life that pointed toward Jesus; each one of these people taught us something about what it means to be a disciple, whether it’s the work that they did, or how they loved – whatever it is, I hope as we think about them today, we think about the ways we saw Jesus work through them.
Today at this altar, you and I will experience what my friend Bill would call a “sip and a taste” of the heavenly banquet. As we participate in the prayers over the elements, I hope that we will feel the presence of those incredible people who have gone on before us as they too experience God’s gracious table. As we work to bring about God’s kingdom here on earth, we rest in the knowledge that they are a part of God’s kingdom in heaven. One day, may those two parts of the kingdom be joined forever in God’s sight. Until then, we shall remember, and we shall imitate those saints until we are gathered around at God’s holy banquet table together.