Revelation 7: 2-4, 9-14
1 John 3: 1-3
Matthew 5: 1-12
Now that all the little, and often not so little, ghosts, goblins, skeletons, fairies, cowboys, Star Wars figures, and maybe even politicians have collected all their candy door to door last night, we turn our eyes to those who have done anything but hide behind a mask. Today the Church universal celebrates one of its most ancient Solemnities, The Feast of all God’s Holy Ones – All Saints Day. While Halloween has become a totally secular celebration here in the United States at least, its origins are tied to the remembrance of God’s saints as the eve of all the hallowed (holy ones).
In the early days of Christianity it was customary to solemnize the anniversary of a martyr’s death. The need for heroes and heroines is a part of our human psyche. We look for examples, models of virtue and perfection. We do it with our sports athletes and pay them millions of dollars in return; we glamorize our movie stars; try to find virtue in our political leaders; when young we seek mentors who teach us how to be responsible adults. The same is true, although on a much deeper and authentic level, with our brothers and sisters who have, “fought the fight” and are recognized for their heroic Christian virtue. There was no doubt in the days when Christianity was outlawed and suspect that those who gave their lives in favor of the faith were celebrated.
As the number of martyrs grew, more and more they were grouped together in local feasts of remembrance. Eventually, a day was chosen to honor all of them. But, as often happens, that particular day was moved around from a springtime celebration of only martyrs to eventually the addition of names, once organized persecution ceased, of those who did not die by the sword but nonetheless lived a life of inspiring Christian virtue.
Overtime, November 1st became the Feast of All Saints around the middle of the 8th century. Although during our liturgical year we have near daily memorials of particular saints, today’s feast collectively honors them all. It has the power to impress and inspire.
It is the “Church Triumphant” in heaven, alive in the world outside of space and time, who actively intercede on our behalf with all those who have died before us.
The Gospel for today contains the beginning of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount as related in Matthew 5, the eight Beatitudes: Blessed are the poor in spirit, the meek, the merciful, the humble, and the self-less. While I believe these men and women of “every time and place” as our opening prayer for Mass states, were given heroic graces by God to live extraordinary lives, let’s remember that they too struggled with a flawed human nature.
They understand our failings, for they too recognized such in their own lives. In a kind of hyper-sensitivity to sin, they knew of their own unworthiness. (Would that we would feel the same at times.) They know we are challenged and called to live in a counter-cultural way at times. They know what it is like to be disappointed and find our faith tested when times get rough.
Yet, as Blessed Mother Teresa stated, and I paraphrase, “God does not seek perfection but faithfulness.” And St. Francis of Assisi who taught us to live a life that preaches without words and St. John Vianney, the famed Cure of Ars, who spoke tenderly about Christs' presence in the Eucharist, "He is there!" Let us look to this cheering squad who have fought the fight and run the same race that we now do. Whether formally canonized by the Church or not the call to holiness is the essence of our Christian life. If I can be poor in spirit, meek, humble, merciful, and quick to forgive, as Jesus himself was, then I’m on the path to a holy life. But, God alone makes us a holy people and if it is true holiness, I wouldn’t even know it about myself.
If you've never done it or haven't in a while, today put aside other things and take some time to read the life or lives of the saints. Go on line and search Catholic websites for the saints of the Church. It's something I've loved since I was a kid. Their stories are true adventure and inspiration.
Together we pray:
God our Father,
source of all holiness,
the work or your hands is manifest in your saints,
the beauty of your truth is reflected in their faith.
May we who aspire to have part in their joy
be filled with the Spirit that blessed their lives,
so that having shared their faith on earth
we may also know their peace in your kingdom,
Grant this through Christ our Lord.