Wednesday, November 01, 2006

homily on the Solemnity of All Saints

I had the opportunity three months ago to visit the Cathedral in Los Angeles for the first time since it opened in 4 years ago. Upon entering, the first thing that struck me were the 25 large tapesties–about 21 ft by 7 ft–hanging on the north and south walls of the central nave of the cathedral. These 25 tapestries depict the over life-sized figures of 136 saints from all over the world, from different walks of life, from every period of history. Saints like the apostles, St. Joan of Arc,, St. Francis, Lorenzo Ruiz, Chalres Lwanga, and others. You know who they were because either underneath the saints or above them are their names, so you can identify them.

What was most striking were the faces of these saints. They weren’t faces we typically find in paintings of saints—many paintings of saints are stylized, and sometimes with almost life-less expressions. The faces on these tapestries were vivid, contemporary, alive.

Before he started work on the tapestries, the artist and painter, John Nava who created them, researched on each of the saints. And through his research he got insight on each of the saints’ personalities, history, and life. And after that, he searched for appropriate models. Many of the models he chose turned out to be the people he already knew—family members, friends, people on the street sometimes, his gardener, the woman who served him at the restaurant, teachers, writers, a variety of people, from different walks of life. They brought to life the figures of the saints of the past.

I think in doing this Nava conveys an important message: that the saints were these powerful figures of faith who are just like us. Like us, they experienced weakness, pain, joy, fear, love, doubt.. Like us, they also weren’t entirely perfect. Each one had his/her challenges. None of them had an easy life. Like us, the saints had personal problems, some with family members, colleagues, and political and church leaders. Yet they endured: amid the demanding challenges of their time and culture, the saints never stopped being faithful but relied on God for help and in so doing witnessed to Jesus in their lives—something we are called to do.

There is another detail in this tapestry that is noteworthy. Mixed with all those saints of the past, Nava included anonymous saints....figures in the tapestry who were not named, and all of these unnamed figures wear contemporary/modern clothes we’d wear everyday. And those figures represent us—-you and me—-the saints of today. We stand in the company of, and in communion with, all those powerful figures of faith of the past, praising God and thanking him for all the help and blessings God has showered on us. And together with them—we at our earthly liturgy here at Mass, and those saints at the heavenly liturgy which we heard about in the first reading—we proclaim and cry out with one voice: Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of power and might.

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