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.
CHESAPEAKE, VA (Catholic Online) - "Let us all rejoice in the Lord, as we celebrate the feast day in honor of all the Saints, at whose festival the Angels rejoice and praise the Son of God." These words are pronounced by priests throughout the world on this¬†Feast of the Solemnity of All Saints.¬†On this Feast we are¬†challenged to remember that all of us are called to holiness as we reflect on the great heroes of the faith. We progress through¬†embracing the stuff of¬†everyday life with living faith. We are all called to be saints.
Our first reading from the Book of Revelation opens our eyes to the¬†Havenly Liturgy.¬†The beloved disciple John, imprisoned on the Island of Patmos, had a "vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice: "Salvation comes from our God, who is seated on the throne, and from the Lamb."
"All the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They prostrated themselves before the throne, worshiped God, and exclaimed: "Amen. Blessing and glory, wisdom and thanksgiving, honor, power, and might be to our God forever and ever. Amen."
"Then one of the elders spoke up and said to me, "Who are these wearing white robes, and where did they come from?" I said to him, "My lord, you are the one who knows." He said to me, "These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb." (Rev. 7)
The same beloved disciple wrote letters to the early Church to inspire them to lives of holiness. Our second reading is an excerpt from his first letter: "Beloved: See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. Yet so we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him."
"Beloved, we are God's children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope based on him makes himself pure, as he is pure." (1 John 3: 1-13)
This is what holiness is - to become "like Him". It happens as we live our lives in Him and allow Him to live His life in - and through - us every day. We can live immersed in God¬†in a world corrupted by the effects of sin and filled with all of its imperfection. As we struggle against the allure of sin and the reality of evil we can begin to "see Him as He is", progress in the path of holiness and participate in His ongoing work of redemption. This happens as we freely respond to grace.
Our Gospel (Mt. 5: 1-12) reminds us that this path to holiness is also the path to happiness. The word "beatitude" can be translated "happiness". Do we believe that God wants us to be happy? St Josemaria Escriva once¬†wrote, "I am every day more convinced that happiness in Heaven is for those who know how to be happy on earth."
The saints we celebrate are the "great cloud of witnesses" referred to by the author of the Letter to the Hebrews, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us."¬† (Hebrews 12:1)
They inspire us by their lives and deaths. They¬†assist us by their prayers. They call us toward and forward. Our communion with them is not ended by death, because they are alive in Christ.¬†As¬†the Apostle Paul writes "neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Rom. 8:38, 39)
The early Christians honored the dead and had a special devotion and affection for the martyrs. We have accounts like the Martyrdom of Polycarp from the middle of the second century which set forth the practice:
"Accordingly, we afterwards took up his bones, more precious than the most exquisite jewels, and more pure than gold, and deposited them in a fitting place, so that when being gathered together, as opportunity is allowed us, with joy and rejoicing, the Lord shall grant us to celebrate the anniversary of his martyrdom, both in memory of those who have already finished their course, and for the exercising and preparation of those yet to walk in their steps ".
The Liturgy was celebrated over the bones of the "holy ones", the saints, who gave their lives for Love Himself; Jesus Christ the Savior. This is the origin of our practice of embedding relics in the altar. Christians do not fear death. We view it with the eyes of faith as a change of habitation. The dates of commemorating those who witnessed to the faith by their heroic lives and deaths varied as local communities honored local saints and martyrs. Over time, those Feast days became more universally accepted as the rhythm of the Church Year became more uniform.
The first account we have of honoring all the saints is St Ephrem the Syrian (d. AD 373). The Bishop of Constantinople, St. John Chrysostom (d. AD 407), set aside the first Sunday after Pentecost for this commemoration. The Church of the East still celebrates the Feast on that day. In the Western Church the date may have been on that date but was moved to May 13th. There is some evidence that the move to November 1 came with Pope Gregory III (d. AD 741), and was likely first observed on November 1st in Germany.
The Feast of All Saints is our family Feast Day. In a special way we commemorate those honored by "canonization", the process wherein the Church has acknowledged their sacrificial¬†lives of holiness and holds them up as models and effective intercessors. This celebration is grounded in the ancient Church teaching concerning the Communion of Saints.
Just as we pray for one another, those who have gone on before us pray for us. They are joined to us forever in the communion of love and their prayer is powerful. This ancient and firm belief is attested to in the earliest writings of the Christian tradition. For example, St. Cyril of Jerusalem (AD 350) wrote: "We mention those who have fallen asleep: first the patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and martyrs, that through their prayers and supplications God would receive our petition... (Catechetical Lecture 23:9).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this communion in these words: "Being more closely united to Christ, those who dwell in heaven fix the whole Church more firmly in holiness...They do not cease to intercede with the Father for us...So by their fraternal concern is our weakness greatly helped....as Christian communion among our fellow pilgrims brings us closer to Christ, so our communion with the saints joins us to Christ, from whom as from its fountain and head issues all grace, and the life of the People of God itself: We worship Christ as God's Son; we love the martyrs as the Lord's disciples and imitators, and rightly so because of their matchless devotion towards their king and master. May we also be their companions and fellow disciples (CCC # 956, 957)
One of my favorite readings in the Liturgy of the Hours is from a homily given by an Abbott and Doctor of the Church named Bernard of Clairvaux on this Feast entitled "Let us make haste to our brethren who are awaiting us"
Why should our praise and glorification, or even the celebration of this feast day 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.
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. But our dispositions change. The Church of all the first followers of Christ awaits us, but we do nothing about it. The saints want us to be with them, and we are indifferent. The souls of the just await us, and we ignore them.
Come, brothers, let us at length spur ourselves on. We must rise again with Christ, we must seek the world which is above and set our mind on the things of heaven. Let us long for those who are longing for us, hasten to those who are waiting for us, and ask those who look for our coming to intercede for us. We should not only want to be with the saints, we should also hope to possess their happiness. While we desire to be in their company, we must also earnestly seek to share in their glory. Do not imagine that there is anything harmful in such an ambition as this; there is no danger in setting our hearts on such glory.
When we commemorate the saints we are inflamed with another yearning: that Christ our life may also appear to us as he appeared to them and that we may one day share in his glory. Until then we see him, not as he is, but as he became for our sake. He is our head, crowned, not with glory, but with the thorns of our sins. As members of that head, crowned with thorns, we should be ashamed to live in luxury; his purple robes are a mockery rather than an honor. When Christ comes again, his death shall no longer be proclaimed, and we shall know that we also have died, and that our life is hidden with him. The glorious head of the Church will appear and his glorified members will shine in splendor with him, when he forms this lowly body anew into such glory as belongs to himself, its head.
Therefore, we should aim at attaining this glory with a wholehearted and prudent desire. That we may rightly hope and strive for such blessedness, we must above all seek the prayers of the saints. Thus, what is beyond our own powers to obtain will be granted through their intercession.
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