For Catholics, the month of November commemorates the saints and those who have died. We take stock as well as reminisce about those who have gone before us in faith.
When the low G sounds on the organ, announcing the beginning of R. Vaughan Williams's hymn For All the Saints, it is an invitation to fix our gaze on the lives of Saints Peter and Paul, Mary Magdalene and Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and their heavenly host of friends.
If we aspire to be men and women of vision in the church and world today, it is because we are standing on the shoulders of giants like these. As Pope Benedict XVI said on World Youth Day last year, the saints "are the shining path which God Himself has traced throughout history and is still tracing today."
Twenty years of priestly ministry with young people have taught me that the world today, and especially the young, has an increasing need for the fascinating lives of the saints. Pope John Paul II has certainly helped us to rediscover these heroes and heroines in our tradition -- he beatified 1,338 women and men, and canonized 482, more than all his predecessors together.
The saints and "blesseds" are those who have attempted, each in their own time and unique ways, to take the extraordinary Gospel vision and transpose it on the world. G.K. Chesterton said "(such) people have exaggerated what the world and the church have forgotten". They model for us humanity at its best, and show us what a beautiful world this can be.
There are those within the church who criticize John Paul for creating an "inflation" of saints. I disagree, especially after many years of working with young people. They, in particular, have a desperate need for real heroes and heroines, models and witnesses of faith and virtue that the world of sports, cinema, science and music cannot provide.
For John Paul, the call to holiness excluded no one; it is not the privilege of a spiritual elite. His "stars" did not try to be regarded as heroes, or to shock or provoke. Rather, they offered alternative models of compelling beauty, truth and hope.
Karol Wojtyla himself was an extraordinary witness who, through his devotion, heroic efforts, long suffering and death, communicated the powerful message of the Gospel. A great part of the success of his message is due to the fact that he has been surrounded by a tremendous "cloud of witnesses" who stood by him and strengthened him throughout his life.
I can only imagine what that welcome scene looked like in Heaven on April 2, 2005 as John Paul II, bent and broken from the ravages of illness and time, walked through those gates, standing tall as a giant. The welcoming party of his saints and blessed had gone ahead to prepare the way for him. At last he was home with his friends. What a celebration it must have been! One of the questions we have to ask is about the origin of evil in the world and in our own lives. The Catholic Christian faith teaches us that evil is not God's will, nor can it be. God cannot create something that is inherently wicked.