These are very unsettling times for the world. There is conflict, hunger, homelessness and uncertainty. The pandemic seems unabated and we live in the shadow of dread. Sadly, Christians are killed for their faith. I don’t know about you, but I do not find the television adverts of cheery, happy, clappy people helpful. I’m glad some people can be so upbeat, but I just think of the victims of evil and of the virus and their families and I remain quiet and prayerful. We see no end in sight, no light at the end of the tunnel, few reasons to be cheerful as our vision narrows and our personal world seems to shrink. The Church understands that we can feel low for all kinds of reasons. It is the nature of the Sacraments and the liturgical calendar to minister to us to lift our spirits and give us hope even in the direst of situations. Our Christian faith is an invitation to engage in the many situations, triumphs and trials of life positively and with confidence. Why? Because we know we are loved by our Creator, Our Father Who watches over us and is within us to care for and protect us. We know He will allow no harm to come to us no matter how insecure our circumstances. We know that Jesus is with us through it all. Where those people without faith feel vulnerable and with no back up, Christians know nothing can come between us and the love of Christ, as St. Paul teaches us. We need not be afraid, we are of infinite worth to God. We are His work of art. No one can steal from the Father. Even death itself has been destroyed by the Lord on Calvary and at the Resurrection. With our faith we go into the world in a position of strength for we have the power of the Holy Spirit within us and He sustains the Universe.
At this November time of year, we sense creation going to sleep and having a rest. We do not like darkness as we are children of the light. Holy Mother Church gives us this Feast of All Saints and Holy Souls to lift us up. As Catholics we celebrate the saints and pray for our deceased loved ones throughout the year especially in Holy Mass. Yet we give this month in particular as a month of special prayer to thank God for the saints, past present and future that the Church provides and the world needs in every age. We also pray for our departed loved ones, the Holy Souls. It is our fervent prayer that they will all soon be in Heaven. Purgatory has been given a mixed press over the years and some unnecessary and untrue negative connotations. The Holy Souls in Purgatory are happy people and they are in wonderful company. They have met God and see His loving face. The way it will probably go with me is I will go before the Lord and see I am not quite ready. I hope He will permit me to enquire as to my loved ones whom I hope are all in Heaven. Then I will be happy to tootle off to Purgatory and meet up no doubt, with a few on my pals.
Returning to the theme of the Saints, there a few things we know about them.
First: there are countless millions of them. If there are so many success stories can it really be that hard to please God and lead lives worthy of our baptism? We sometimes think we will never be saints. We are fully aware of our sins and weaknesses and as years go by things do not seem to improve. The devil wants us to focus negatively upon ourselves and give up the battle. Yet saints are the first to say that they are sinners. Saints are honest sinners who turn to God’s mercy constantly, feel His forgiveness, dust themselves off and joyfully get on with the tasks of life. They don’t let their personal weaknesses inhibit them or make them despondent.
Second: Saints are generally people who lead unspectacular and relatively ordinary, mundane lives. Of course, we have the stories of the greats like Saint Francis, St. Teresa of Calcutta, St. John Paul and Padre Pio. These are truly wonderful people but they would not want the high standard they achieved to be a source of frustration for us. Each saint would encourage us to just keep the faith, love the Lord in the Sacraments, share love and mercy and just do our best which is always good enough for God. We set the bar of sainthood far too high. Remember Jesus said just to give a cup of water to one of His little ones will have an eternal reward. Sainthood is within every believer’s grasp and we should allow this to put a little spring in our spiritual step.
Third: Those canonised are only a small fraction of the saints. As we have said they are a number impossible to count (Book of Revelation). We are the product of saints. Our parents, priests, teachers, religious, good friends etc. We are surrounded by saints who quietly and unspectacularly advance the Kingdom of God every day. Never feel saints are a thing of the past when, as we see it, life was simpler compared to the challenges of modern life. Don’t you believe it. Every age faces its own issues. At every time and in every place ordinary people struggle, experience challenge, disappointment and setbacks. We know of such people and we marvel how they keep going. I think especially of our sick brothers and sisters who live day and night in pain and limitation offering everything up to God as a share in His cross for the good of the world. The miracle is that they do keep going, never giving up of giving in; they will not lie down under the issue, they call of God’s help, keep their eyes fixed on Him, trust Him and doggedly carry on.
If we are to be saints, we must take our faith seriously and allow it to shape our lives. Saintly disposition is counter-intuitive to a world where some people see life in terms of success, possessions and acknowledgement. Saints are humble people who quietly and without fanfare enter each day wishing to live in a way pleasing to God. This is their primary desire. Such people go unnoticed by the world and are seen as insignificant. On the contrary, theirs is treasure in Heaven and a vital example to a world that is passing way to give it pause for thought. God gives us saints because we need human faces and firm unfailing friends to help us in our faith journey. They become role models encouraging us to get our priorities straight, our values correct and share God’s love at every opportunity.
We believe our glorious future is best served by holiness of life, and love for our neighbour. Heaven is within every believer’s grasp. The feast of All Saints and its companion All Souls, gives us fresh courage to continue to do our bit for the Kingdom. After all, the saints in Heaven and the Holy Souls are proactive. The saints are with us in the Mass and praying for us that one day we will all be where they are. I end with our best friends, the Holy Souls. We play a real and powerful role in their journey to Heaven. Every prayer we say for them is a blessing of which they are aware. I am sure they too are praying for us. They are truly wonderful people. As we sleep we have the constant concern of our loved ones who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith. We associate them with perpetual light. We must bear this in mind as we gaze into the dark tunnel of life. This holy time reminds us that each Christian has an eternal destiny, that Heaven is our true home, that God has prepared a place with Himself for each and every one of us. We are reminded that this life is not the only life but the preparation for unending, indescribable joy with God and our loved ones. So, please be positive. All is in God’s safe hands.
“The only difference between a saint and a sinner is that a saint has a past, and every sinner has a future”. Oscar Wilde – Catholic convert).
Fr. Gerard X