We are called to be saints
Rev 7:2-4, 9-14; 1Jn 3:1-3; Mt 5:1-12a
Today, we celebrate the Solemnity of All Saints. The meaning of what we celebrate is very well expressed through the various texts of the liturgy of today’s feast.
1. THE MEANING OF THE FEAST OF ALL SAINTS
First, the Opening Prayer of this Holy Mass briefly but clearly expresses what we celebrate on this occasion. “Almighty ever-living God, by whose gift we venerate in one celebration the merits of all the Saints…” Today, therefore, we are rejoicing in, and celebrating the achievements of, the holy men and women of every time and place.
In our First Reading, taken from the Book of the Apocalypse, Saint John tells us about the vision of heaven which God allowed him to see. “After this I had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands.” (Apocalypse 7:9).
The third Preface of Feast of All Saints (which we shall recite today) also tells us what it is that all of us joyfully celebrate today: “For today by your gift we celebrate the festival of your city, the heavenly Jerusalem, our mother, where the great array of our brothers and sisters already gives you eternal praise. Towards her, we eagerly hasten, as pilgrims advancing by faith, rejoicing in the glory bestowed upon those members of the Church through whom you give us, in our frailty, both strength and good example.”
2. THE CHURCH AS COMMUNION
The celebration of the Solemnity of All Saints reminds us more than ever that the Church is a COMMUNION. It is the Communion of Saints. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 946 says: “What is the Church if not the assembly of all the Saints? The Communion of Saints is the Church”.
The Communion of saints is the spiritual union of the members of the Christian Church, living and the dead. They are all part of a single “mystical body”, with Christ as the head, in which each member contributes to the good of all and shares in the welfare of all. The persons who are linked in this communion include THOSE WHO HAVE DIED and whom Hebrews 12:1 pictures as “a cloud of witnesses” encompassing Christians on earth. In the same chapter, Hebrews 12:22-23 says Christians on earth “have come to Mount Zion, and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to a judge who is God of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect.”
Therefore, on the Feast of all Saints, we celebrate the feast of the TRIUMPHANT CHURCH (those who have won the race, by arriving in heaven); on the Feast of all souls, we remember the SUFFERING CHURCH (those in purgatory, still to be made perfect); and on every other day, we celebrate the feasts of the PILGRIM (militant) CHURCH, members of which we, the living, are. The pilgrim, suffering and triumphant churches form the communion of saints because all are heading to the same destination – HEAVEN. They are all called to holiness. Belief in the communion of saints is affirmed in the Apostles’ Creed which we recite every Sunday during Holy Mass.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (962) sums it up as follows: “We believe in the communion of all the faithful of Christ, those who are pilgrims on earth, the dead who are being purified, and the blessed in heaven, all together forming one Church; and we believe that in this communion, the merciful love of God and his saints is always [attentive] to our prayers” (CCC 962).
This concept of the communion of saints is linked with Paul’s teaching that in Christ Christians form a single body, as found in Romans 12:4-13 and 1 Corinthians 12,.
3. THE UNIVERSAL CALL TO HOLINESS
Each and every member of the Church is called to be A SAINT, and we can. Each and every one of us is called to holiness, like those of the triumphant church in heaven. The Bible abounds with God’s invitation to the human being be holy and perfect.
a) In the Old Testament: To the Israelites, the Chosen People, God spoke through Moses, saying: “Speak to the whole community of the sons of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy, for I, your God, am holy’” (Leviticus 19:1-2)
“Be consecrated to me, because I, Yahweh, am holy, and I will set you apart from all these people so that you may be mine” (Leviticus 20:26). Similar expressions like these are found throughout the Old Testament.
b) In the New Testament: Saint Paul very frequently and insistently tells us, with very strong emphasis, that each and every disciple of Jesus is called to holiness of life.
To the Thessalonians, Saint Paul writes: “What God wants is for you all to be holy” (1Thess 4:3).
To the Ephesians, he says: “Blessed be God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with all the spiritual blessings of heaven in Christ. Before the world was made, he chose us, chose us in Christ, to be holy and spotless, and to live through love in his presence, determining that we should become his adopted sons, through Jesus Christ” (Eph 1:3-5).
To the Colossians, Paul writes: “You are God’s chosen race, his saints; he loves you, and you should be clothed in sincere compassion, in kindness and humility, gentleness and patience” (Col 3:12).
And to the Romans, he says: “Think of God’s mercy, my brothers, and worship him, I beg you, in a way that is worthy of thinking beings, by offering your living bodies as a holy sacrifice, truly pleasing to God. Do not model yourselves on the behaviour of the world around you, but let your behaviour change, modelled by your new mind. This is the only way to discover the will of God and know what is good, what it is that God wants, what is the perfect thing to do” (Romans 12:1-2).
It is on account of this clear teaching of Holy Scripture on the UNIVERSAL CALL TO HOLINESS that the Lord Jesus exhorts us, his followers: “You therefore are to be perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt. 5:48). He himself stands as the Author and Finisher of this holiness of life. For he sent the Holy Spirit upon all people that he might inspire them from within to love God with their whole heart and their whole soul, with all their mind and all their strength (cf. Mk. 12:30) and that they might love one another as Christ loved them.
c) In our Second Reading of this Mass: A Reading taken from the First Letter of Saint John, we heard the following words: “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope based on him makes himself pure, as he is pure.” (I John 3:2-3). These words clearly tell us that if we truly want to attain that blessed life which the Saints have already attained, if we really want to reach that destiny of eternal happiness which God has prepared for each and everyone of us, then we have got to strive, already here on earth, everyday, to purify ourselves, “to be as pure as Christ” (I John 3:3).
d) The Responsorial Psalm of this Holy Mass: tells us very clearly about the conditions to be fulfilled if we really want to go to heaven. The Psalmist says:
Who can ascend the mountain of the LORD?
or who may stand in his holy place?
One whose hands are sinless, whose heart is clean,
who desires not what is vain. (Psalm 23:3-4).
e) Today’s Gospel, taken from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, said, among other things: “Happy the pure in heart: they shall see God” (Mt 5:8). This, too, reminds us that if we want to enjoy the beatific vision at the end of our earthly life, that eternal vision of God which the Saints are now enjoying, then, as the Second Reading of this Mass tells us, each one of us “must purify himself, must try to be pure as Christ” (I John 3:3).
This call to holiness also involves our ordinary daily activities, that is, life at home in our families, school activities, professional activities, business, recreation, etc.
f) The Synod Fathers: The post-synodal apostolic exhortation of Pope John Paul II, on the vocation and mission of the laity in the Church and the World (Christifideles laici, no. 17), affirms: “The vocation of the lay faithful to holiness implies that life according to the Spirit expresses itself in a particular way in their involvement in temporal affairs and in their participation in earthly activities. Once again the apostle admonishes us: “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col 3:17). Applying the apostle’s words to the lay faithful, the Council categorically affirms: Neither family concerns nor other secular affairs should be excluded from their religious programme of life”. Indeed, this call to holiness penetrates every aspect of the daily life every son and daughter of God. It is by our faithfulness in serving God in the “little things” of our daily lives that we can attain sainthood.
4. WE ARE ALL CANDIDATES FOR HEAVEN
The celebration of the Solemnity of All Saints is a powerful reminder that we, who are still on pilgrimage here on earth, are by no means separated from the Saints in heaven. Many of those Saints are our own brothers and sisters, our own parents, relatives and friends whom we personally knew. Today the Church honours all the Saints, including those who have not been officially canonized by the Church.
When we sing the famous song, “Oh, when the saints go marching in. Lord, I want to be in their number…”, do we really mean these words? Do we really want to be in their number? Then, the time to choose is now! Again, at the end of the Preface at Holy Mass, we always use the following, or similar word: “With Angels and Archangels and with the whole Company of Saints we sing our unending hymn of praise.” We say this because we know, through our faith, that the Holy Mass truly and really unites heaven and earth, making us truly one with the Angels and Saints. Every time we participate at Holy Mass, we can say with the Psalmist: “Now our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem” (Ps 122:2).
May we pray, therefore, that the Lord may grant us the grace to seek holiness in everything we do, so that when we close our eyes in death, we shall see God as he really is, and be numbered among the saints whose feast we celebrate today.