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, 2021

“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.

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.  That’s one of the reasons why God bestows His grace upon us.  Through His grace, God the Father equips us to succeed as his adopted children.  But there are other gifts by which God also 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.

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 might be after our deaths, if we persevere in the virtues of faith, hope and divine charity 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 shows one of the reasons that God gives us brothers and sisters.

God doesn’t give us brothers so that we can develop our punching skills.  God doesn’t give us sisters so that we can have a larger wardrobe.  God gives us brothers and sisters to teach us how to help brothers and sisters when they’re in need, and on the flip side, to turn to them when we ourselves are in need.  This is the first and most practical way for children to practice the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.

Likewise, 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 God’s grace will strengthen us to be faithful on earth, to dwell eternally 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.