Scripture Readings: Book of Revelation 7:2-4, 9-14; First Letter of Saint John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12
The Church has determined that the Solemnity of All Saints is so important that the commemoration is observed even when it falls on a Sunday, as is the case this year. Are we remembering only the officially canonized saints of the Catholic Church on All Saints Day? No, this Solemnity is much wider, as we commemorate all those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith and now enjoying eternal happiness in Heaven.
The list includes the familiar saints near and dear to us: Saint John the Baptist, Saints Benedict, Saint Scholastica, Saint Francis, and all the rest, but also myriads of those whose names or lives we do not know, who may not be formally canonized by name, but who are saints nonetheless. All God’s saints have their names inscribed in God’s book of life (see Book of Daniel 12:1). All of these we venerate in a special way on this day.
Countless numbers comprise God’s Communion of Saints, and we don’t have to worry about how many that precisely is, even with the description of 144,000 souls who have “survived the period of great trial,” described in the Book of Revelation at Mass today. Our focus should be on where these saints are now and what they are doing for the Church and for us.
All the saints of Heaven are eternally enjoying the vision of God and experiencing eternal happiness, and their example encourages us. But there is more. They are also intercessors for us in God’s presence while we are on our pilgrim journey through life. What does that mean? Nothing less than that the saints are praying for us, asking God’s grace and care for us in our particular needs and challenges, whatever those may be at this time and place. Undoubtedly we all are, to one degree or another, living in a time of stress, uncertainty and need. Only God can bring it all to a resolution and guide us through the darkness into the wonderful Light of Heaven.
On this day we call to mind that: “where the saints have gone, we hope to follow.” Important to remember too is that we never journey alone. We are supported by many who are alive and touch our lives here and now, by their love, and support and prayers, but as followers of Jesus we believe that we are also assisted by what is called in the Letter to the Hebrews, “the great cloud of witnesses,” those men and women of every race, nation, language and time, who have completed life’s journey and are now with the Lord. This expresses the fact of God’s desire for unity and the salvation of all people.
On this day of All Saints, no one is missing and there are no favorites in God’s eyes, even if we have our own particular favorites. Of course among the “highly favored” is the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God! But among the other saints, we can say no one has a head start on the others, and all share equally in holiness.
The Gospel for this Solemnity is focused on the call to sanctity, that is, nearness to God, with detailed instructions for what a person, each of us, needs to do, to acquire holiness and happiness. These are called the “Beatitudes,” the very word meaning, “Happy” or “Blessed.” For the Master, Jesus of Nazareth, the Beatitudes are all about a manner of approaching life, a way of considering oneself in relation to God and others, and how the true blessedness can be achieved.
We can say that the Beatitudes do not make impossible demands on us, but they do require interacting realistically with who we are, who our Creator is, and how the people who enter our lives are part of the larger picture of our journey to God.
What, we may ask, is required of those who aspire to holiness, to be among the saints and in turn perfectly happy? Jesus says it will include being poor in spirit, that is, dependent on God for everything; sorrowing for wrong doing; being meek and not haughty; hungry and thirsty for the right things; merciful to others; pure of heart and intention; being peaceful with self, God and others; and finally, willing to face persecution for one’s adherence to Christ.
On second thought, the requirements for blessedness may seem quite demanding! With the grace of God active in our lives, however, we can achieve life’s goal: union with God. We are called not to isolation, withdrawal, or self-absorption, but instead, to live openly and honestly within our family and community, recognizing in our lowliness and sorrow an effective way to reach out to others in whatever pain, sorrow or joy they may be experiencing.
The irony of the Beatitudes of Jesus is that recognizing our spiritual poverty means that God can enter and find a place in our lives. By forgetting our personal sorrow and instead consoling others in their sorrows, we discover we are in fact comforted. Sharing with others whatever we may have, materially or of our time, talents and efforts, soothes the hunger and thirst within ourselves. In adopting the Beatitudes with single-heartedness and reaching outwards and not inwards, we become children of God and can even see God. How so? Jesus says elsewhere in the Gospels that “where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Mt 18:20).
If we live by the Beatitudes, we are not on cloud nine, outer-space or levitating on high. Rather, we embrace the realism of our daily lives and take up the opportunities of sanctity here and now. As God’s children, of the One and same Parent, we form one family of faith, hope and love. Beginning here, it is intended to extend beyond this life, to the realm of final victory over sin and death, Heaven itself.
Saint John the Evangelist expresses the notion beautifully with these words from his first letter: “We will be like God, for we will see God as He is” (First John 3:2-3).
Today we recount all the saints of Heaven, but we should also keep in our hearts the “saints” who surround us in our lives, members of our community, family, neighbors, shopkeepers, who as ordinary as they may seem, are also conduits for us to go to God. As they live today, may they and we eventually be numbered among the saints of Heaven, or most likely not to be formally canonized by the Church, but saints of God nonetheless!
We are the people who long to see God’s face. Sooner or later we shall, God willing. In the pathway of our daily lives is the way of holiness and happiness in God’s presence forever.