The Solemnity of All Saints (Evening Mass)

How would you react if someone called you a saint?  We hear that, sometimes, don’t we?  When we do something good for someone, sometimes they’ll say, “Oh, thank you, you’re a saint!”  But how does that make you feel?  Do you bristle a bit and think, “not me!”?  I think we all have that kind of reaction.  Saints are the people we see in statues and hear about in amazing stories.  No way could we ever be confused with people like that.  More often than not, we would be likely to say to someone, “now I’m no saint…”

… As if that were a good thing.  When we think about saints, we get stuck, I think, on those saints of statues and medieval stories.  But today, the Church is asking us to think about saints in a broader way.  Yes, we include all those “official” saints that have been canonized through the ages.  The Church rejoices in the saints because when someone becomes a saint, the Church recognizes that he or she is definitely in heaven, the goal of all our lives.  That’s what the process of canonization is all about.  And bringing people to heaven is the whole point of the Church.  So, from the many saints of every time and place,  we know of thousands of people that are certainly in heaven.  This illustrates that God’s will is done in the end, doesn’t it?

But, as I said, I think the Church wants us to think about saints in a broader way.  There is the story of a schoolteacher who asked her children what a saint was.  One little girl thought about the saints she saw in stained glass windows, and said “Saints are people the light shines through.”  Think about that for a minute – that little girl isn’t far from the kingdom of God there.  Because all people are called to let the light of Christ shine through them, and saints are those people who have made that the business of their lives.

Heaven is that great multitude that John the Revelator tells us about in today’s first reading: that multitude “which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue.”  They are wearing, he tells us, white robes, which have been washed in the blood of the lamb.  That seems very counter-intuitive, doesn’t it?  Everyone knows that blood stains like nobody’s business.  But he’s speaking poetically here, and recognizes that nothing washes us sinners quite as clean as the saving blood of Jesus Christ.

And that’s really the only way.  Because we’re quite right when we bristle a bit at being called saints.  We can’t be saints all on our own.  We aren’t good enough, we can’t make up for our sins with any kind of completeness, and there’s basically no way that we can jump high enough to get to heaven.  But this feast of All Saints recognizes that we don’t have to.  We don’t have to because Christ has saved us through no merit of our own but based solely on God’s love for us.  The fact that we can be called saints is a grace, and we dare not bristle so much that we turn away from that grace.

We are all of us on a journey, and we know that our true home is not in this place, however good it may be.  We are on a journey to heaven, and that means that we are in the process of becoming saints.  That journey consists in following the Way who is Jesus the Christ, our Lord and Redeemer.  He has commanded, “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” and there is no way to do that except to follow him.

So, no, of course, not all of us will be canonized.  Most of us will go to the Kingdom rather imperfect in many ways, and will have to work that out in the grace of Purgatory.  But if we look to those canonized saints for inspiration, perhaps our relationship with the Lord will lead us and our brothers and sisters to that place where all the saints worship around the Throne of the Lamb.

Today we, the Church militant, honor the Church triumphant: not only the great saints like Mary and Joseph, Patrick and Benedict, Michael and Gabriel, Francis and Dominic, but also those saints that God alone has known.  We glory in their triumph that was made possible by them joining themselves to Christ.  We take inspiration from their battles and from the faith that helped keep them in Christ when they could have turned away.  If God could do that in their lives, he can certainly do that in ours too.  Perhaps, if we are willing to accept it, he can fill us with saintly attributes: strength in weakness, compassion in the face of need, witness to faith in times when society lacks direction, and so much more.

Those virtues are virtues that we think about when we call to mind those official, canonized saints.  But they are virtues for which we can and should strive as well.  The desire and the grace to attain those virtues comes from God himself, and the reward for receiving that grace and living those virtues is a heavenly relationship with God.  What could be better than that?

This is a lot of work, and it’s not easy to live a saintly life, but Jesus makes a promise today to those who strive to do so: “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven!”

The Solemnity of All Saints (Mass at Noon)

Today, the Church militant – which is all of us – rejoice with the Church triumphant – which is all the Saints in heaven – because of the great glory of God.  This glory they can already see; we hope to see it one day.  And we will see it if, please God, we perfect ourselves and grow in holiness to the point that we too become saints for the Kingdom of God.

But I think many of us bristle at the very idea of becoming a saint.  We might even throw up our hands in some conversations and say something like, “hey, I’m no saint…”  Saints are those people in elaborate paintings or statues, who lived lives that we find very remote.  Saints just seem out of touch and sainthood seems way past our grasp.

But that’s all wrong.  We were all made by God to come back to him one day: we were, in fact, made for heaven.  Becoming a saint is the vocation of all of us.  Because the most important thing we know about saints is that they are definitely in heaven, which is our true home, which is where we were meant to return some day.  To get there, we ourselves have to become more like them.  We have to grow in our faith and make our reliance on God’s mercy the central focus of our lives.

And so this feast in honor of all the saints is an important one.  We celebrate those saints we know of like Mary and Joseph, Peter and Paul, Patrick and Dominic and so many others.  But we also celebrate the ones we don’t know of; people whose faith and goodness only God knows.  And most importantly, in celebrating them, we vow to become like them: close to Jesus who leads those who believe in him past the gates of death to the glory of heaven, where our reward will be great, as Jesus says in the Gospel today.  On that day, we will indeed rejoice and be glad!

The Solemnity of All the Saints (Evening Mass)

Today’s readings

How would you react if someone called you a saint?  We hear that, sometimes, don’t we?  When we do something good for someone, sometimes they’ll say, “Oh, thank you, you’re a saint!”  But how does that make you feel?  Do you bristle a bit and think, “not me!”?  I think we all have that kind of reaction.  Saints are the people we see in statues and hear about in amazing stories.  No way could we ever be confused with people like that.  More often than not, we would be likely to say to someone, “now I’m no saint…”

… As if that were a good thing.  When we think about saints, we get stuck, I think, on those saints of statues and medieval stories.  But today, the Church is asking us to think about saints in a broader way.  Yes, we include all those “official” saints that have been canonized through the ages.  We are told that Pope John Paul II canonized some 482 saints during his pontificate.  Some criticized him for doing that, but his feeling was that the Church is in the business of bringing people to heaven, so canonizing many holy people was the right thing to do.

And that’s an important piece of information about our official saints.  Canonization recognizes that the person is certainly in heaven from what we know of him or her.  That’s why the process is so intricate.  And this is contrasted with the fact that the Church has never said any person is in hell.  So we know of thousands of people that are certainly in heaven, but no one who is in hell.  This illustrates that God’s will is done in the end, doesn’t it?

But, as I said, I think the Church wants us to think about saints in a broader way.  There is the story of a schoolteacher who asked her children what a saint was.  One little girl thought about the saints she saw in stained glass windows, and said “Saints are people the light shines through.”  Think about that for a minute – that little girl isn’t far from the kingdom of God there.  Because all people are called to let the light of Christ shine through them, and saints are those people who have made that the business of their lives.

Heaven is that great multitude that John the Revelator tells us about in today’s first reading: that multitude “which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue.”  They are wearing, he tells us, white robes, which have been washed in the blood of the lamb.  That seems very counter-intuitive, doesn’t it?  Everyone knows that blood stains like nobody’s business.  But he’s speaking poetically here, and recognizes that nothing washes us sinners quite as clean as the saving blood of Jesus Christ.

And that’s really the only way.  Because we’re quite right when we bristle a bit at being called saints.  We can’t be saints all on our own.  We aren’t good enough, we can’t make up for our sins with any kind of completeness, and there’s basically no way that we can jump high enough to get to heaven.  But this feast of All Saints recognizes that we don’t have to.  We don’t have to because Christ has saved us through no merit of our own but based solely on God’s love for us.  The fact that we can be called saints is a grace, and we dare not bristle so much that we turn away from that grace.

We are all of us on a journey, and we know that our true home is not in this place, however good it may be.  We are on a journey to heaven, and that means that we are in the process of becoming saints.  The reason John Paul could canonize so many saints is because he had so many to choose from.  None of them were good on their own merit; they became more and more like their heavenly Father by joining themselves to Christ.  Jesus said, “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” and there is no way to do that except to follow him.

So, no, of course, not all of us will be canonized.  Most of us will go to the Kingdom rather imperfect in many ways.  But if we look to those canonized saints for inspiration, perhaps our relationship with the Lord will lead us and our brothers and sisters to that place where all the saints worship around the Throne of the Lamb.

So yes, today we honor the great saints like Mary and Joseph, Patrick and Benedict, Michael and Gabriel, Francis and Dominic, and all the rest.  We glory in their triumph that was made possible by joining themselves to Christ.  We take inspiration from their battles and from the faith that helped keep them in Christ when they could have turned away.  If God could do that in their lives, he can certainly do that in ours too.  Perhaps, if we are willing to accept it, he can fill us with saintly attributes: strength in weakness, compassion in the face of need, witness to faith in times when society lacks direction, and so much more.

Those virtues are virtues that we think about when we think about those official, canonized saints.  But they are virtues for which we can and should strive as well.  The desire and the grace to attain those virtues comes from God himself, and the reward for receiving that grace and living those virtues is a heavenly relationship with God.  What could be better than that?

This is a lot of work, and it’s not easy to live a saintly life, but Jesus makes a promise today to those who strive to do so: “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven!”

Solemnity of All the Saints

Today’s readings

One of my friends told me that the nun who once taught him had a rather curious line to compliment a student when they had done a good deed: “May you die a martyr’s death!”  Well, knowing how some of those saints died would make anyone cringe a little and say “yeah, thanks Sister, you first.”  But we know the sentiment of Sister’s comment: the martyrs are saints and definitely in heaven.

So many of us would bristle at the thought of becoming a saint.  Saints are those people in elaborate paintings or statues, who lived lives that we find very remote.  Saints just seem out of touch and sainthood out of our grasp.

But that’s all wrong.  We were all made by God to come back to him one day: we were, in fact, made for heaven.  Becoming a saint is the vocation of all of us.  Because the most important thing we know about saints is that they are definitely in heaven, which is our true home, which is where we were meant to return some day.

And so this feast in honor of all the saints is an important one.  We celebrate those saints we know of like Mary and Joseph, Peter and Paul, Patrick and Dominic and so many others.  But we also celebrate the ones we don’t know of; people whose faith and goodness only God knows.  And most importantly, in celebrating them, we vow to become like them: close to Jesus who leads those who believe in him past the gates of death to the glory of heaven, where our reward will be great, as Jesus says in the Gospel today.  On that day, we will indeed rejoice and be glad!

The Solemnity of All Saints

(Mass with the school children)

Today’s readings

Did you hear that? Jesus says, “Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (And) blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.” Now I want to see a show of hands here: how many of you would like to be insulted, persecuted, and had mean things said about them? Nobody? Well…

These days, not too many of us have to suffer like that for our faith. In the country in which we live, faith is more or less accepted, even though it’s not always lived out very well. If you’re a Christian, not too many people are going to give you a hard time or even kill you. But it wasn’t always that way. Especially back in the very early days of the Church, right after Jesus died and rose and ascended into heaven, things were hard for Christians. They were thought of as some kind of evil people or troublemakers. People were always trying to get them to give up their belief in Jesus. And when they wouldn’t give it up, they were often put to death.

We call people who are put to death for their faith martyrs. There have been martyrs all through the history of the church: people who believed in Jesus and wouldn’t give that up just because people threatened them.  The Church has always believed that these people went right to heaven, because of what Jesus tells us today: “Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Right away, these people were remembered with great fondness and eventually there were enough of them that the church celebrated a day in remembrance of all the martyrs.

Eventually, the Church believed that you didn’t necessarily need to die for the faith to be holy. And so the idea of saints began to include people who were popes, bishops, priests, nuns, and lay people who had done wonderful things or who had been known to be very holy people and dedicated to the faith. These are people who were poor in spirit, meek, hungry for righteousness, merciful to others, peacemakers, and all the rest. We started to look at all these people as role models, and we remembered them after their death.  We look for them to pray for us, to help us grow in holiness too.

Each of us has a patron saint. Usually it’s a saint with the same name as you, or maybe you’ve picked some other saint whose story appeals to you for some reason. Some of us here have dressed up as patron saints.  All of these wonderful saints help us to know Jesus better. That’s why they are with us. These saints pray for us and with us every day of our lives. When we celebrate the Eucharist together here at Mass, they are praying with us up in heaven. Whenever we think about them, we can learn a little more about what it means to be close to Jesus and to be holy.

But even these patron saints aren’t the only ones we celebrate today. Lots of saints have their own feast days, like St. Francis and St. Petronille.  But today is the feast day for the many unofficial saints: people who lived holy lives but never really attracted any attention. They might even be people you knew. Maybe these saints were your grandparents or great grandparents whose prayer life and witness has taught you about the faith. Maybe they were those who served in our armed forces heroically and with integrity. Maybe they were your neighbors who worked and lived with honesty and grace. Maybe she was the lady you knew from Church who was probably in pain just before she died, but never complained and was always cheerful. These holy men and women have made their families and their homes holy, and have painted our communities with holiness. They may never find their names on the list of the official saints, but they too are part of what we call the Communion of Saints.

And the real good news of this celebration of All Saints today is that we are all called to be saints! Every one of us! It’s not enough to just think about the saints and admire them for being holy, poor in spirit, peacemakers, and all the rest. We have to become those things ourselves. Each of us is called to live a holy life. We do that by reading the Bible, by praying, by going to Mass, by becoming responsible people, by loving all the people in our lives, by reaching out to those less fortunate than ourselves, by staying away from anything that makes us love people less. We may not be saints yet, but we are on our way. Every day of our lives is a chance to become holier, to become that saint that God created us to be.

And who knows, maybe in a couple hundred years, some other school children will be dressing up as one of you…

The Solemnity of All Saints

Today’s readings

How would you react if someone called you a saint?  We hear that, sometimes, don’t we?  When we do something good for someone, sometimes they’ll say, “Oh, thank you, you’re a saint!”  But how does that make you feel?  Do you bristle a bit and think, “not me!”?  I think we all have that kind of reaction.  Saints are the people we see in statues and hear about in amazing stories.  No way could we ever be confused with people like that.  More often than not, we would be likely to say to someone, “now I’m no saint…”

… As if that were a good thing.  When we think about saints, we get stuck, I think, on those saints of statues and medieval stories.  But today, the Church is asking us to think about saints in a broader way.  Yes, we include all those “official” saints that have been canonized through the ages.  We are told that Pope John Paul II canonized some 482 saints during his pontificate.  This is an impressive number, to be sure, but it is even more impressive when you realize that that is more than the previous seventeen popes all put together!  Some criticized him for doing that, saying that it cheapened the process of canonization.  But his feeling was that the Church is in the business of bringing people to heaven, so canonizing many holy people was the right thing to do.

And that’s an important piece of information about our official saints.  Canonization recognizes that the person is certainly in heaven from what we know of him or her.  That’s why the process is so intricate.  And this is contrasted with the fact that the Church has never said any person is in hell.  So we know of thousands of people that are certainly in heaven, but no one who is in hell.  This illustrates that God’s will is done in the end, doesn’t it?

But, as I said, I think the Church wants us to think about saints in a broader way.  There is the story of a schoolteacher who asked her children what a saint was.  One little girl thought about the saints she saw in stained glass windows, and said “Saints are people the light shines through.”  Think about that for a minute – that little girl isn’t far from the kingdom of God there.  Because all people are called to let the light of Christ shine through them, and saints are those people who have let that light shine through.

Heaven is that great multitude that John the Revelator tells us about in today’s first reading: that multitude “which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue.”  They are wearing, he tells us, white robes, which have been washed in the blood of the lamb.  That seems very counter-intuitive, doesn’t it?  Everyone knows that blood stains like nobody’s business.  But he’s speaking poetically here, and recognizes that nothing washes us sinners quite as clean as the saving blood of Jesus Christ.

And that’s really the only way.  Because we’re quite right when we bristle a bit at being called saints.  We can’t be saints all on our own.  We aren’t good enough, we can’t make up for our sins with any kind of completeness, and there’s basically no way that we can jump high enough to get to heaven.  But this feast of All Saints recognizes that we don’t have to.  We don’t have to because Christ has saved us through no merit of our own but based solely on God’s love for us.  The fact that we can be called saints is a grace, and we dare not bristle so much that we turn away from that grace.

We are all of us on a journey, and we know that our true home is not in this place, however good it may be.  We are on a journey to heaven, and that means that we are in the process of becoming saints.  The reason John Paul could canonize so many saints is because he had so many to choose from.  None of them were good on their own merit; they became more and more like their heavenly Father by joining themselves to Christ.  Jesus said, “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” and there is no way to do that except to follow him.

So, no, of course, not all of us will be canonized.  Most of us will go to the Kingdom rather imperfect in many ways.  But if we look to those canonized saints for inspiration, perhaps our relationship with the Lord will lead us and our brothers and sisters to that place where all the saints worship around the Throne of the Lamb.

So yes, today we honor the great saints like Mary and Joseph, Patrick and Petronille, Francis and Dominic, and all the rest.  We glory in their triumph that was made possible by joining themselves to Christ.  We take inspiration from their battles and from the faith that helped keep them in Christ when they could have turned away.  If God could do that in their lives, just maybe he can do that in ours too.  Perhaps, if we are willing to accept it, he can keep us “strong in times of trials and doubts; courageous when challenged; compassionate to the broken; wise for those who are searching; outspoken when others hold a fearful silence; anonymous in performing loving deeds; persevering when struggles will not just evaporate; defending justice when the world ignores or presses down those on the margins; gentle and strong in the face of what opposes the gospel.”[1]

Those virtues are virtues that we think about when we think about those official, canonized saints.  But they are virtues for which we can and should strive as well.  The desire and the grace to attain those virtues comes from God himself, and the reward for receiving that grace and living those virtues is a heavenly relationship with God.  What could be better than that?

One of my very favorite hymns in our tradition is the one we sing today: “For All the Saints.”  It speaks of our great battle with evil, and the grace of God that overcomes it all in the lives of the saints.  When we picture ourselves as part of that great throng of saints, it changes the singing of the song.  Would it not be great if we could be part of that countless host of which we sing:

From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast,
through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,

singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost:
Alleluia, Alleluia!


[1] Jude Siciliano, OP, First Impressions.

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