The Solemnity of All Saints

Here is the homily preached at St. John Parish in Clonmel on November 1, 2015, the Solemnity of All Saints.

The Solemnity of All Saints
Revelation 7:2-4,9-14  +  1 John 3:1-3  +  Matthew 5:1-12
November 1, 2015

“After this I had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue.”

In two great commands, Jesus summed up all that God asks of us.  At their simplest, we are to love God and love our neighbor.  Today’s feast, the Solemnity of All Saints, is an expression of that second command.

God asks a lot of us as Christians.  But like any good father, God equips us for success.  God equips us so as to be able to fulfill what He commands.  In a general sense, that’s why God bestows His grace upon us.  This grace is primarily offered us through the sacraments.  Through the grace of the sacraments, God the Father equips us to succeed as his adopted children.  But there are other gifts by which God equips us.

One of the greatest of the Father’s gifts to us is the Communion of Saints.  We profess our belief in the Communion of Saints whenever we pray the Apostles’ Creed.  The Nicene Creed, which we proclaim together at Sunday Mass after the homily, does not speak specifically of the Communion of Saints, but it does profess belief in “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church”.  The Church that Jesus founded is an expression of the Communion of Saints.  The Church manifests the life of the Communion of Saints, with Christ Jesus as its Head.

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We can reflect on today’s feast of all the saints as an encouragement for ourselves.  The feast of All Saints gives us hope that, where the saints are now, we also may be after our deaths, if we persevere in the virtues of faith, hope and divine charity all our days on this earth.

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, a great teacher of the Faith who lived during the twelfth century, was very blunt about the fact that today’s feast does far more for us on earth than for those we honor.  He asked:

“Why should… the celebration of this feastday mean anything to the saints?  What do they care about earthly honors when their heavenly Father honors them by fulfilling the faithful promise of the Son?  What does our commendation mean to them?  The saints have no need of honor from us; neither does our devotion add the slightest thing to what is theirs.  Clearly, if we venerate their memory, it serves us, not them.  But I tell you, when I think of them, I feel myself inflamed by a tremendous yearning.”

St. Bernard goes on by describing how today’s feast is a benefit to those of us on earth who would like someday to be saints in Heaven.  He continues:

“Calling the saints to mind inspires, or rather arouses in us, above all else, a longing to enjoy their company, so desirable in itself.  We long to share in the citizenship of Heaven, to dwell with the spirits of the blessed, to join the assembly of patriarchs, the ranks of the prophets, the council of apostles, the great host of martyrs, the noble company of confessors and the choir of virgins.  In short, we long to be united in happiness with all the saints.” [1]

What St. Bernard in this sermon does not discuss, though, is a common objection from some of our fellow Christians.  The objection is made that every moment we spend in devotion to the saints is a moment taken away from God Himself, who should be the object of all our devotion (as they claim).  However, this is one of many topics about the Faith where we can learn about God from the blessings God has given us:  in this case, the gift of the family.  The life of a human father can reveal the life of God the Father.

Does a loving human father object when brothers and sisters turn to each other in their needs?  A loving human father does not object; in fact, he encourages and fosters relationships among brothers and sisters.  This is one of the reasons we have brothers and sisters:  to teach us how to help our brothers and sisters who are in need, and to turn to them when in need.  This is the first and most practical way for children learn to practice the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.  This relates to a true story I read some months back.

The Catholic writer Matt Archbold wrote a column for the Catholic Digest about an experience with his 13-year old daughter.  Here is the beginning of his story:

“We were getting ready to cross a two-lane road at an outlet mall.  …  My 13-year-old and 11-year-old volunteered to come with me.  As we approached the street I reached for their hands.

“‘Dad, I’m old enough to cross the street,’ [the 13-year-old] announced.  ‘I don’t need you to hold my hand.’

Ouch.  This was a big moment.  She knew it, but she underplayed it by casually not looking at me.  …

“The 11-year-old took note of the moment, though.  She looked at her sister and then back at me and kindly said in defense of her older sister, ‘Dad, none of the other 13-year-olds at school have to hold their dad’s hand crossing the street.’

“Teen 1.  Dad 0.

“I looked at her, and she nodded at me as if to encourage me to do the right thing.  ….  I held the hand of the 11-year-old, and the 13-year-old walked behind us and somehow managed to cross the street without harm.  Somehow.”

Each of us in our spiritual life is often like this 13-year-old.  We like to have God around, but all things being equal, we prefer our independence.  But as with the teen’s father, as the story later shows, God is wise enough to allow us some measure of independence, but at the same time draw us and lead us into growth.  This happens in large measure through the Catholic belief of the communion of saints:  that is, the belief by which all the baptized faithful are united, no matter whether they are on earth, or in Purgatory or Heaven.  All of our lives are actively united to each other, and those unions between us brothers and sisters in Christ draws us closer to God, rather than distance us from him.  Listen to the last part of the story about the teen and her dad:

“It’s not so much that I don’t trust my 13-year-old; I just don’t trust the world.  I’ve done my best to protect her, and I’ll go on protecting her.  But now she doesn’t want all that protection.  …

“This is what I was thinking about as we continued shopping.  I know I must have been a real treat to be with.  Finally, my wife said it was time to go home.  As [our entire family] approached the street, I cleverly asked the 13-year-old for help.  I said, ‘Grab the little one’s hand, please.’

“She looked at me suspiciously, but I underplayed it.  …  I told her that she was getting older and should be taking more responsibility.  She held the five-year-old’s left hand, I held the right one, and we were all connected again.

“Dad 1.  Teen 1.”        

On this holy feast of All Saints, we give thanks to God for giving us our elder brothers and sisters in the Catholic Faith.  They strengthen us by the example of their struggles on earth in following Jesus.  They strengthen us by their prayers from Heaven, through which they turn to the same God who helped them reach Heaven, that His grace will bring us to eternal life with God and all His holy saints.

[1] St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Sermo 2: Opera Omnia, Edit. Cisterc. 5 [1968], 364-368, quoted in The Liturgy of the Hours, vol. IV (New York: Catholic Book Publishing Co., 1975), 1526-7.