The Solemnity of All the Saints

Today’s readings | Today’s feast (more)
Mass for the School Children

Albrecht Durer All Saints smDid 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. 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 though 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. The Church 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 remembered them after their death.

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. Our fourth graders recently did a project about their patron saints, and I’d like them all to come up here now to show us their banners, and some of them are going to share their stories with us…

All of these wonderful patron 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 the ones our fourth graders showed us on their banners. This is the feast day for all of those unofficial saints: people who lived holy lives but never really attracted any attention. They might even be people you know, or knew. Maybe these saints are 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 are your neighbors who work and live with honesty and grace. Maybe she is 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.

Because the real news of this celebration today of All Saints 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. Most of us aren’t 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 fourth grade class will be doing a saint report about one of you…