SOLEMNITY OF ALL SAINTS
Apocalypse 7:2-4, 9-14
Psalm 23: 1-2, 3-4, 5-6
1 John 3:1-3
Called to the Splendour of Holiness
The message of All Saints Day, or All Hallowmas as it was once called, is that all people — men, women, and children; the healthy and the sick; the rich and the poor; the married and the widowed; the single, the separated, and the divorced; the “very put together” and those not quite right in the head; the handsome and the homely; the clever and the simple — all, without exception, are called to the splendour of holiness.
Blessed Abbot Marmion says that, “When we celebrate the Feast of All Saints, we ought to repeat to ourselves the words that Saint Augustine heard: Cur non poteris quod isti, quod istae? What reasons have we for not tending to holiness? Oh, I know well what each one is tempted to say: ‘I have such or such a difficulty, I have such or such a trial to contend with, I cannot become a saint.’” “But be sure,” says the Irish Abbot, “that all the saints have met with such difficulties, such trials, and much greater ones than yours. Thus then none can say: ‘Holiness is not for me’” (Christ in His Mysteries, p. 399).
The Heavenly Liturgy
Today’s reading from the Apocalypse shows us the saints engaged in the glorious liturgy of heaven. Saint John gazes at “a great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes, and peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb’” (Ap 7:9–10).
Before the Triumph, Travail
The Apostle’s vision depicts the final triumph but, before the triumph came much travail. This is why it is so important for us to read assiduously the lives of the saints, not the sugar–coated biographies that present the saints as somehow gliding from perfection to perfection, but the honest ones that relate their struggles, their failures, their nights of wrestling with God, and even their sins. All holiness is, in the end, a triumph of the grace of Christ and an epiphany of the inexhaustible mercy of God.
The Church considers familiarity with the lives of the saints so important that she recalls them, day by day, in one of her official liturgical books, The Roman Martyrology, the latest edition of which dates from 2004. The Martyrology, marvelously catholic in its scope, obliges us to ask the hard question put to Saint Augustine and quoted by Abbot Marmion: “Why canst thou not do what all of these have done?” The saints demolish all our alibis. Become familiar with the saints.
Those Who Seek the Face of Christ
The Responsorial Psalm tells us what all the saints have in common: they sought the Face of Christ. “Lord, this is the generation of those who seek your face” (Ps 23:6). The saints are men, women, and children fascinated by the Face of Christ. This, of course, is why the Servant of God Pope John Paul II declared with complete assurance that the first duty of the Christian is to seek the Face of Christ. Seek His Face then, and all other things will be give you besides.
Celebrating the Saints
The Solemnity of All Saints invites us to make three simple resolutions. The first of these is that we ought with all our hearts to celebrate the memorials, feasts, and solemnities of the saints. When we keep the feast of a saint we magnify the Lord whose grace and mercy are epiphanied in them. God Himself glories in His saints; so too does the Church. God delights in them; so too does the Church. God never tires of looking at them because in each one He sees, as in a mirror, the radiant Face of Christ; so too does the Church.
Too Much of the Saints?
In the wake of the Second Vatican Council many Catholics fell into a kind of Protestant dreariness and, like the Jansenists of the 17th century, became nervous about making too much of the saints. Nothing could be more foolish. Does one honour an artist by hiding away all his works in an attic or by storing them in crates in a cellar? Does one honour a poet by never reciting his poems? What would become of Mozart and of Bach if their works were never performed? The problem is not that we risk making too much of the saints; it is rather that we risk making too little of them.
Call Upon the Saints
The second resolution is that we ought to invoke the saints constantly and, with an immense confidence, rely on their intercession for all things great and small. The saints, from their place in heaven, are solicitous for us. They make our concerns their concerns. When we struggle, they want to help. When we fall, they are at the ready to help us rise again. When we lose our way “ amidst the encircling gloom,” they gently and surely point us in the right direction.
Saints At Our Service
Pray to the saints. Live in their presence. Do everything the Holy Catholic Church has done for centuries: venerate their images, kiss their relics, name them over and over in your prayer. One who rarely invokes the saints is like a person barely on speaking terms with a family member. We belong to the family of the saints. The saints love us dearly. It is this charity of theirs that moves them to put themselves at our service, for in each of us they recognize a member of the Body of Christ. Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face promised to spend her heaven doing good on earth, but she is not the only saint to have envisaged eternity in this way. Before my Grandmother Kirby’s death I asked her if she would help me from the other side. Her reply was marvelous. “I will do,” she said, “anything I can for anyone.”
Imitate the Saints
The third resolution is that we ought to imitate the saints. If you cannot imitate their virtues, imitate their confidence in the mercy of Christ. There is no shame at all in going before God with empty hands. Do not plead your inadequacies, your weakness, your miseries, your background, your dysfunctional family, or your unhappy childhood. For every inadequacy of yours, there are a hundred saints who had one worse.
Grace Made Perfect in Weakness
The heavenly choirs are peopled with saints who knew the very weaknesses that you know. There is no misery — physical, mental, or emotional — that is not represented before the throne of God and of the Lamb. There you will see men and women of every background. There you will see saints who came from hugely dysfunctional families; I could give you examples. There you will see saints who emerged from a perfectly miserable childhood into the wholeness that comes from the grace of Christ “made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9). “I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest on me” (2 Cor 12:9).
The Food of All Saints
The Eucharist is the Food of All Saints. Eat and drink today what they ate and drank: the adorable mysteries of the Body and Blood of Christ. And know that as we offer the Holy Sacrifice today we are surrounded by “so great a cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1), by a magnificent company of companions, of intercessors, and of dear, dear friends.