Happy feast day of All Saints! My friends, it is no coincidence or accident of thought that the Church commemorates the solemnity of “All Saints”. We look to the saints as the future glory that we hope to receive. The Church invites us into the lives of the saints, lives that were open to the Paschal mystery, lives that accepted the Lord’s grace in their lives, and in many ways offered their lives to God in humble submission and even martyrdom. Therefore, let you and I accept the Church’s invitation and look a little more closely into today’s solemnity.
First, before we look into the content of this solemnity, that is the lives of the saints themselves, take a moment to consider the context surrounding the feast. The Church’s invitation begins in the liturgical celebration. Like every feast that the Church celebrates, the liturgy is the center of the Church’s commemoration. Each celebration calls to mind a particular expression of the spiritual life that is lived out, and then calls us back into the heart of everything we do: namely, the participation in the life of Christ. “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me”.
The Mass is central to who we are as Christians, for it unites us more closely to God who offered us a share in the Divine Life. The Liturgy is what connects the human and divine. Contained in the Mass are the signs that provoke us; all the senses are at play. We enter the liturgy as human participants, and God comes to meet us. In fact, it would be more accurate to say that God lifts us up to Him. For whenever we celebrate the liturgy we celebrate in the heavenly mystery. We participate in the timeless (more accurately: trans-historical) event of the Cross, and worship God as He worships Himself.
Yes, God worships Himself. The Trinitarian life, the perichoresis (περιχῶρησις) is God’s love for Himself, not as we would love ourselves like narcissists, but as God loves. Creation, the Cross, New life wrought in baptism are all manifestation’s of God’s love. Thus, the offering Christ made to the Father was in fact a form of Worship and praise. And God the Father received and accepted this praise and as the sign of this we have salvation and Christ was raised from the dead.
So this is the central mystery and the lens we are to use for everything else. As we look into the lives of the saints, and how we commemorate them, we have to look to the source, the center, which is Christ’s salvation. Christ is the one who raises us up and makes us saints. So, yes, not only is it fitting for us to remember the saints, but it is important because they express the infinite love of God expressed in each of his people. The invitation becomes one for each of us, to participate more fully in the love of God, to become saints ourselves!
Now that the context has been settled, and we have a good idea of what is central to this feast day, we can take a moment to consider the lives of the saints. I would do a great disservice to the Church and to the saints if I described the lives of only a few of the saints. But what I can do is look into the heart of all of the saints. They all had one quality in common: humility. Humility is not always what we think it is, and yet, it is one of the most important parts of the spiritual life. It is the vehicle for sanctity, but it must be understood correctly.
Most consider humility to mean feeling worthless, or being nothing in the sight of great things. But this kind of humility is wrong. It is the kind of humility that drove Martin Luther to consider the soul as totally depraved and in utter need of God’s mercy. Although this is true, it is a distortion of humility. To describe it, however, it would be more beneficial to tell a story.
Every summer in college after I had finished my semester of studies at the seminary, I worked at a youth camp. Every day I watched parent after parent drop off their child, and every day saw them get picked up again. But there is one day in particular that stands out in my mind.
There was this little boy (let’s call him John) who was so immersed in a game he was playing on day that nothing I did could get his attention. I could call him, tap him on the shoulder, offer to give everyone ice-cream, and yet this kid wouldn’t budge. Then, something really interesting happened.
It was the end of the day, and John was still playing his game when his father walked in. I greeted John’s dad with a smile and a handshake, and he spoke, “good afternoon”. At the sound of his dad’s voice, John’s face lit up. He stopped what he was doing, got up and ran to his father, his arms raised to be picked up by his dad.
My friends, we must look to the example of this little boy. No matter what he was involved in, when he heard his father’s voice he ran to him and longed to be lifted up by him. God calls you and I. God speaks to us, and we must run to Him when we hear His voice. This is what the saints did. And my friends, it is this disposition, this willingness to seek the Lord that makes us saints.
The saint is not the one who never falls into sin, but the one who falls and runs to God to beg for His mercy and strength. St. Padre Pio gave us some great advice when he said, “When you are about to fall, lean on the cross of Jesus, who died on it, in order to raise us up”. The invitation is one of humility. Lean on, depend on Jesus, who offered himself up and gave himself over for us, that we may not fall down, but may be dependent upon Him.
Now, St. Pio meant that when we are about to sin, when we are about to fall, or have sinned and have fallen, we must lean on the saving mystery of the cross. We are to lean on Jesus, and hope in Him. And we will be raised up out of our sinfulness and help us to continue more steadily on the journey ahead.
Brothers and sisters, take up the invitation the Church offers you today. Follow in the footsteps of the saints, and you will find that the journey leads to heart of the mystery already present for us: Jesus, and His love for us now, present in the Eucharist.
Happy Solemnity of All Saints!