The Solemnity of All Saints

Today’s readings

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. That’s what we were put on earth to do. Because the most important thing we know about saints is that they are definitely in heaven, which is our true home, and that’s where we were meant to return some day. To get there, we ourselves have to become more like them. We have to grow in holiness and make our reliance on God’s grace and mercy the central focus of our lives.

It may help to know that most, if not all, of the saints struggled with holiness too. Think about Saint Paul himself: he began his career by persecuting Christians and we know that he had a hand in the stoning of Saint Stephen. Or think about Saint Augustine who was an intellectual man who disdained Christianity, until his mother’s prayers caught up with him. Or we might think even more recently of Saint Teresa of Calcutta who experienced a very dark time in her life when she could not even communicate with Jesus. But Jesus was still there and led her to heaven.

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

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.

St. Boniface

Today’s readings

Boniface was a Benedictine monk in England. He gave up the real possibility of being elected abbot of his community in order to reach out to the German people. Pope Gregory II sent Boniface to a Germany where paganism was a way of life, and where the clergy were at best uneducated and at worst corrupt and disobedient. Reporting all of this back to Pope Gregory, the Holy Father commissioned him to reform the German Church. He was provided with letters of introduction to civil and religious authorities, but even so met with some resistance and interference by both lay people and clergy. Yet, he was extremely successful, centering his reforms around teaching the virtue of obedience to the clergy and establishing houses of prayer similar to Benedictine monasteries. Boniface and 53 companions were finally martyred during a mission, in which he was preparing converts for Confirmation. The success of Boniface’s mission was that he helped the people and the clergy to see how far they had strayed from God’s plan for the Church.

In his blindness, Tobit came to see what was important, too. If we remember all the way back to Tuesday, we heard about Tobit being made blind by cataracts caused by bird droppings, and later in that same story, he scolded his wife for accepting a goat as a bonus on her labor, because he did not believe her story. I mentioned then that Tobit had to learn that charity – for which he was quite well known – begins at home. His period of blindness gave him that very insight, I think, and in today’s story he rejoices in his cleared vision.

Through the intercession of St. Raphael, Tobit regained his sight and was able to see his son safely returned from a long and dangerous journey. He saw also the return of his family fortune. And he saw the union of his son Tobit with his new wife Sarah. There was great cause for rejoicing in all that he was able to see and Tobit didn’t miss a beat in placing the credit where it belonged. He said,

Blessed be God,
and praised be his great name,
and blessed be all his holy angels.
May his holy name be praised
throughout all the ages,
Because it was he who scourged me,
and it is he who has had mercy on me.

And so we praise God today for angels who help us to see what’s really important. We praise God for angels who clear up our clouded vision and help us to see past the obstacles we’ve put in God’s way. We praise God for saints that point us back in the right direction – toward Jesus Christ. We praise God for all those witnesses who help us to overcome our pride and self-righteousness so that God’s way can become clear to us. May we rejoice along with Tobit and Anna and Boniface and his companions, and all the rest that God has brought us back to him, time and time again.