November 1, 2015 — Solemnity of All Saints
On this First Day of November, as we as Catholics have done for centuries, we honor All Saints, both known and unknown. Under the Roman Emperor Diocletian, so many Christians were martyred and named Saints that there were many more Saints than days to honor them. All Saints Day was instituted because the Church felt every saint should be venerated, and with the increasing numbers, it was logical to designate one day when we honor, remember, and look up to all the Saints.
In our Creed, we use the term “communion of saints.” St. Paul began using the term “saints” to refer to people still living at that time. Thus, the “communion of saints” includes all God’s holy people, living and dead. It is our declaration that we understand that holiness surrounds all of us and lives within us whenever the saving grace of Christ is at work. Today’s Feast, the Solemnity of All Saints, celebrates all of those who have gone before and are now with the Lord in heaven; this includes not only the ones the Church has officially designated as “saints” but also the women and men who have lived a holy life even though they may not have been recognized. In addition, on this day we fondly remember all those who may have personally inspired us to be better Catholics and better persons.
In the Book of Revelations, from which our First Reading is drawn, reference is made to “the seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.” Each of us is marked with the seal of God through the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. The priest, and others, make the sign of the cross on our foreheads with Holy Oils. We are thus sealed with the Holy Spirit. St. Paul once wrote, “God, who has also sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.” (2 Corinthians 1: 21-22) This is our first step on the journey to holiness.
The idea that we are in communion with all the saints and everyone else is included in the Second Reading from the First Letter of St. John. John tells us, “Beloved, we are the children of God.” There is much of consequential value in this statement. For one thing it means that in a sense we are all siblings in the eyes of God. Our relationship to one another should strive for holiness; that is a major part of what being a saint is. To be a child of God nonetheless means that first of all we must accept the love of Jesus, and second, we carry that love out by truly loving one another. That, too, is an important part of holiness. As we revere those in heaven on this All Saints Day, we cannot possibly conceive of what is to come: “What we shall be has not yet been revealed.”
Today’s Gospel from St. Matthew, extracted from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, is as powerful a statement about what it means to be a saint as there is. Recall that many looked for a Messiah who would become king and by any means necessary He would free them from bondage and from the corrupt governments that in large part controlled their lives. Jesus was not quite the king they expected, and His declaration of the Beatitudes did nothing to affirm their ideas about His kingship. Every one of the Beatitudes is worthy of a complete reflection unto itself. However, if we view them as guides to holiness and sainthood, some seem more significant than others.
You might say that the Beatitudes represent a ladder, which we climb to heaven. The first step has to do with the spiritual. Being “poor in spirit” means that we understand and appreciate that we are sinners; we are in need of God’s forgiveness and mercy. Being poor in spirit means that we understand not what we have, but what we do not have. Tied to being “poor in spirit” is genuine mourning, sadness knowing that we are unworthy of God’s many gifts. “Blessed are the meek.” Our comprehension of “meek” is different from the Greek word from which it is translated. Being “meek” does not mean weakness; it means humility. This is the willingness to serve about which Jesus spoke so often. This is such an essential step to truly being a steward. We are called on this All Saints Day to climb this ladder of holiness with the saints and with so many others who have shown us the way. If we follow this formula, we can become completely the “children of God.”