Society of St. Peter and Paul Seminary

Society of St. Peter and Paul Seminary

All Saints Day

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Revelation 7:2-4, 9-14

1 John 3:1-3

Matthew 5:1-12


Homily for the Solemnity of All Saints


Why is it necessary to celebrate the feast of all saints? All year round we are celebrating feasts of saints: Thomas Aquinas, January 28; Augustine of Hippo, August 28; Theresa of Lisieux, October 1, etc. Why then is it necessary to set apart a day to celebrate the feast of all saints? I can think of two important reasons.


1. Beside the handful of saints whose feast days we celebrate on specific days in the year, there are countless other saints and martyrs, men, women and children united with God in the heavenly glory whom we do not celebrate. Many of these would be our own parents and grand-parents who were heroic women and men of faith. Today we keep their honourable memory. In many ways, therefore, today's feast can be called the feast of the Unknown Saint, in line with the tradition of the Unknown Soldier. We celebrate what the first reading calls "a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands" (Rev 7:9).


2. This celebration gives us a peek into our eternal destiny. The saints we celebrate were men and women like us. Where we are now they used to be, and where they are now we hope to be someday. As Christians we know that a person's life story is not limited to what happens to them between the day they are born and the day they die. Our story starts before we are born, at our conception, and goes beyond the day we die, to all eternity. That is why we do not simply forget people after they die. Didn't St Theresa of Lisieux say that she would spend eternity doing good on earth? In our mortal eyes she is dead and gone. But in the eyes of faith we know that she is alive now more than ever, because she is now fully alive in God. She is now more alive than we are because the life she now enjoys can no longer be diminished by suffering, disease and sin, or death.


Unfortunately, our reaching the fullness of life with the saints does not happen automatically. "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven" (Matthew 7:21). How do we live a life of doing the will of our heavenly Father? The answer is given us in today's gospel, the Beatitudes, where Jesus gives his followers a road map to a happy eternity. All the saints we celebrate today walked the hard and narrow path of the Beatitudes to arrive at heavenly bliss. On the feast of All Saints the church invites us and challenges us to walk the walk, not just to talk the talk, of the saints.


The Beatitudes propose to us a way of life, inviting us to identify with the poor, those who mourn, the meek, and those who hunger and thirst after justice. They challenge us to be compassionate people, to be men and women who are pure in heart, and to become the peacemakers in our dealings with one another, in our families and in the society at large, even when this approach to things exposes us to ridicule and persecution. None of the saints we celebrate today had it as their aim in life to amass wealth, to acquire power or to gain popularity. Rather they looked forward to the eternal reward which God gives to his faithful ones at the end of this short earthly life of illusion.


Today we are invited to walk the path of the saints, the way of the Beatitudes. The way is narrow and hard. We need faith and courage to walk it. The example of the saints and their prayers encourage us and help us on. St Augustine found it hard to live the Beatitudes, but when he read the lives of the saints he said, "What these ordinary women and men have done, why not me?" Why not? Faith assures us all who heed the call of Jesus and live the life of the Beatitudes that at the end of life we shall, together with all the saints, hear the consoling words of the Lord, "Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joys of your master" (Matthew 25:21).


The word ‘saint’ comes from the Greek word “hagios” which means, “consecrated to God, holy, sacred, or pious.” It comes up a number of times in the New Testament. However, the way it was used in the New Testament is a little different from the way the Catholic church uses it today. The references to saints in the New Testament, for example, are often translated simply as “holy ones,” but it is the same word in Greek as our word “saint” today. The saints or holy ones referred to in the New Testament are the living Christians in community being written about. Many Protestant churches accept only that meaning of saints – the Body of Christ or the worshiping people of a church – and they believe all people are called to be saints, holy ones. But they don’t especially honor those who have reached the goal of heaven.


The Roman Catholic tradition has moved in a different direction. The saints in the Catholic church are most often seen not as the earthly Body of Christ, but as the heavenly Body of Christ – those people who have died and who have gone to heaven, and in fact, since the first few centuries the church had developed a process to declare a person a saint. The church does not make a person a saint; they simply verify what God has already done. However, the church has to go through a rigorous process to determine whether a person should be designated a saint or not.


Once the church has declared someone a saint, then that person is recommended to the entire church for veneration. This has often gotten the Catholic church into a little bit of trouble. The only one we worship is God. Yet, to some outsiders, and even insiders, it has seemed at times that the devotion and dedication to a saint has taken on dimensions of worship. That should never happen. We are called only to respect the saints, to use them as examples of how we should live or lives, and because they have achieved their eternal reward, we think that we can ask them to put in a good word for us. Yet, because of some misunderstandings and abuses in this area, most Protestant churches have rejected the Catholic view of saints.


Today’s feast – All Saints Day – was originally called “All Hallows Day”: Hallowed meaning blessed or holy. This is where we get the name for last night’s celebration of Hallows’ Evening or Halloween. It is a feast day to celebrate the memory of all those who have reached the heavenly state, whether they are known to us or not.


So how do we get to be saints, to be holy? This is really the end of the “Way” or the path that we talked about last week. It is the goal for a Christian – to have eternal life with the Trinity in heaven. It is the Kingdom that Jesus was describing so often. In the second reading today from John we hear: 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.” And all through Mark’s Gospel this year, we have been directed by Jesus to that path – one of suffering and death and finally, resurrection. In the first reading from Revelations we share a vision of the saints in heaven: 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.” In the Psalm response we are given this definition of the way of a saint: “Who can ascend the mountain of the Lord? or who may stand in his holy place? One whose hands are sinless, whose heart is clean, who desires not what is vain.”


We have seen people who have been invited by Jesus to follow his “Way”. Some, like the Apostles and like Bartimaeus last week, accepted eagerly. Others, have sadly not been able to do it, because they have been too grounded in the things of this world.


What is this ‘way’ that Jesus describes for us? It is probably best described by St. Matthew in the Sermon on the Mount, and in the list that we have called the Beatitudes. It is Jesus telling us that we will be blessed, that we will have a spiritual benefit, if we follow certain conditions. The saints that we honor today all were ‘blessed” and followed many of the conditions set down for being blessed.


The first of the beatitudes are more descriptions of states of suffering. Is Jesus telling us that we all have to be poor, to have people die that we mourn for, to be meek or afraid, to suffer injustices? No, but if, through the human condition, we find ourselves in these states, then Jesus is saying we will have hope because the kingdom of heaven will balance out those injustices, that poverty, those fears or those injustices. Jesus starts the Beatitudes by giving hope to people in need. Think of the Blessed Mary, the St. Maria Gorettis, the St. Francis of Assisis, the Matthew Shepherds even.


The next three of the nine Beatitudes describe states of being at one with Jesus and following his example. They are the merciful, the clean of heart and the peacemakers. These are the qualities of Jesus that we can copy and know that they will lead us to heaven. These are the qualities of the majority of the saints in our canon of saints, and those recommended for sainthood. Think of the Mother Teresas- the merciful ones; the St. Theresas of Liseux – those pure of heart; the Martin Luther Kings – the peacemakers.


The last two beatitudes are a little different in that they are frightening. They are almost like curses. But they are those saints who have followed Jesus right to the cross. They have lived the life Jesus described, but have gone the further step of suffering and death in line with Jesus. And truly, the early martyrs of the church, and martyrs of religion today are saints because of what they suffered and yet still held firm to the hope of Jesus. Think of the St. Paul’s, the Jesuit martyrs, the Oscar Romero’s. They have followed Jesus’ life to the fullest – they have worked for the betterment of others, they have suffered and they have died. The church now recognizes their resurrection in affirming that God has them with him in heaven.


I do not think, however, that all the saints have been named by the church. I am sure that each of us knew someone in our lives that we would describe as saintly. And there are many people we know who are alive that seem to be reaching that state. We need to ask for their help as well.


The saints are our advocates. They have run the good race. They have achieved the final prize. They are examples for us of how to do it. They have made concrete what Jesus has preached. They deserve our respect and admiration so that along with them we may one day be part of that heavenly band we hear about in Revelations, those who have been marked with the seal!


Jesus has shown us the way to a better life. He has pointed the direction and given us signposts for our trip. The Beautitudes describe things we can do to get there. We have role models to study on our journey. And it is these role models that we honor today.


By Bishop Kasomo Daniel PhD; D.Sc


The Catholic Bishop of The Society of St. Peter and Paul (SSPP)