All Saints Day – November 1, 2009
Readings: Revelation 7:2-4, 9-14; 1 John 3:1-3; Matthew 12:1-5a
Rt. Rev. Lawrence Stasyszen, O.S.B.
St. Gregory’s Abbey: Shawnee, Oklahoma
Today, the Catholic Church celebrates the Solemnity of All Saints, an ancient feast day that honors all those who have gone before us in faith and are now with the Lord. This is such an important celebration in the life of the Church that this year it has superseded what would have been the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time. But while the scriptural readings and focus of the celebration might be different than what normally would have been read on this as an ordinary Sunday – we celebrate fundamentally the same thing: the saving action of God’s grace through the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the working of the Holy Spirit. In other words: in the Solemnity of All Saints, when we honor those who have been purified and are in the full presence of God’s love, we still celebrate the mysteries and realities of Easter and Pentecost.
Most of us probably do not have a very clear idea of what it means to be a saint. We probably consider the call to holiness involved in sainthood as being reserved for the extraordinary persons who officially have been proclaimed saints, or “canonized,” by the Church. That is not necessarily a wrong tendency, and it does point us in a good direction. However, this does not give us a complete understanding of sainthood and it risks keeping the notion of a vocation to sainthood in a somewhat theoretical realm. We might stop short and believe that being a saint is something that happens to someone else.
We might also be tempted to think that while we want to be saints, we are not ready just yet for what that might involve. After all, we are enjoying life too much to try to be a saint right now! We might even want to avoid being considered by others to be a saint in the making because they might consider us boring, or prudish or some type of wet-blanket on a party. Perhaps having a reputation for holiness will be bad for our social life! If this is the case, we might very well be more comfortable keeping the notion of sainthood in the realm of theory, or reserve it for those who live a long time ago in lands far-far away.
Our celebration today reminds us that the call to sainthood is not reserved to some faraway heaven or to an age gone by, but is a bit closer to home. In celebrating “all saints” on a single day – the well known ones and the more anonymous ones – we realize that we have probably known saints and loved saints, that we have been cared for and guided by saints, and that we might very well still be living alongside saints in the making. And if all this is true, then we also might have to admit that we also are called to be saints, and that it might even be possible for us to start being saints today.
Indeed, today’s celebration recognizes that the making of saints is not first and foremost a complicated process conducted in the halls of the Vatican. While we as a Church have an official way of recognizing saints, that process does not make saints. The process of making saints is something that God accomplishes through normal men and women, children and adults, people like you and me. And although the action of God’s sanctifying grace is a mystery, we are called to believe that God does indeed love us and invites each one of us to be a saint.
In response to this divine love and invitation, we for our part are called to seek God’s will in our lives and live with and in God’s love. Of course we will fail in these attempts, but God’s grace is there to help us to get up and try again. That is what we as monks have promised to do in our vow of conversion of life: to live in God’s love, and to allow that divine love to pick us up when we fall and to transform us in our weakness. But this really is the calling of every Christian – not just monks and nuns. And it is the God of love who can accomplish this transformation in us, but only if we keep trying – keep choosing – to be faithful and loving.
Today we feel joy because we know that we God has placed within us the desire to be saints – to know and to serve God – not in some vague theoretical way, but rather in the normal circumstances of our daily life. Each of us has his or her own way to holiness because God created each one of us as a special gift of divine love. Part of excitement and challenge of living is to discover this individual and unique gift of God’s love in our life.
In our first reading today from the Book of Revelation (Revelation 7:2-4), St. John describes his vision of uncountable numbers of saints who celebrate the victory of God’s grace over the trials of life. Today we remember that God has chosen us to be part of this multitude. Always the initiative of grace comes from this God who loves us and invites us to share His life. Through baptism we have been washed in the blood of the Lamb and were made pure of heart. Certainly, we still struggle with weakness and sin, but God is constantly there to strengthen us – especially through the gift of the Eucharist or Holy Communion, when we are strengthened once again by the Body and Blood of Christ to experience now the forgiveness of sin and even the joy of heaven.
The second reading, from the First Letter of Saint John (1 John 3:1-3), reminds us – proclaims to us – that we are God’s children now. Of course we do not fully grasp the nature of the Kingdom of God in its fullness – but we can take courage in the fact that we are God’s children. As we mature in this wonderful dignity, we come to know what it means to be a saint, and our lives will be much more than we can even imagine. We shall be like God because we will experience the fullness of God’s love and life.
Finally, our Gospel today (Matthew 12:1-5a) places before us the teaching of Jesus known as the “beatitudes.” The beatitudes are ways in which the blessedness of God’s grace breaks through the ordinary circumstances and struggles of our lives. God’s love and holiness can be and is made manifest in our experiences of grief and sadness, in our struggle for justice, in our meekness and poverty, in our expressions of mercy, in our moments of reconciliation, and even in times of persecution and misunderstanding. And while we will not share these experiences equally, we can be assured that none of these circumstances are beyond the action of God’s grace – beyond the realm of saints.
Today we celebrate the triumph of God’s love, of God’s Grace, in the lives of countless men and women who have gone before us in faith. We are grateful for their example, and for the joy that they now experience in the kingdom of heaven. We also celebrate, however, the fact that the story of God’s Saints is not yet over, and that the saving and transforming action of God’s love, of God’s grace, is still at work in the world as we know it. God continues to make saints in all the circumstances of human experience – even in the circumstances that we know personally. In fact, by responding to God’s call to be here today, we are even now being transformed by God’s grace – in this moment God is making it possible for us to share in the victory of the saints. May the saints in heaven intercede for us today that we may walk in their paths, choose to follow our Lord, and one day enjoy the fullness of God’s love in the Kingdom of Heaven!