Readings: Rev 7:2-4, 9-14; Ps 24:1-6; 1 Jn 3:1-3; Mt 5:1-12
Rejoice and be Glad, for your Reward will be Great in Heaven!
Today’s solemnity commemorates every Saint, known and unknown. To better understand the significance of All Saints’ Day, we need to know what a Saint is. There are really two ways in which we use this word, and they reflect the two meanings of this solemnity. “Saints” are God’s holy and righteous ones and his elect, which include all those who are enjoying beatific vision in Heaven. The second concerns the doctrine of the Communion of Saints wherein the term “Saint” is used to mean all the people in the Church, including us. We are God’s holy ones. So today, as we celebrate the holy individuals in Heaven and ask for their prayers and intercessions, we also celebrate the possibility of all the Saints on earth.
What can be said about the Saints in Heaven? They are happy. They are praising God forever. They are doing what humans were meant to do. There are thousands of canonized Saints, that is those individuals officially recognized by the Church as holy men and women worthy of our imitation. Because miracles have been associated with them, and their lives have been fully examined and found holy by the Church, we can be assured they are prime examples of holiness, and powerful intercessors before God on our behalf.
Sometimes, Catholics wonder if is appropriate to pray to the Saints, especially when they are confronted by non-Catholics for doing so. Here are some pointers about praying to the Saints, brought out in this conversation between a Catholic and a Protestant. It is definitely worth reading!
And what can be said about the Saints on earth? It is our duty to imitate these holy men and women. A few years from now, not so many, probably less than we expect, might be in Heaven. How do we turn this possibility into a reality? The answer is in the readings today. Revelation tells us that salvation belongs to God and the Lamb, Jesus Christ. If we are going to get into Heaven, it will not be by our own strength.
In Revelation, we see all the Saints in Heaven praising God. If you want to grow up to be a basketball player or a violinist or anything else, you have to practise a lot. If you want to grow up to be a Saint, you have to practise praising God. We need to put in some real time here on earth praising God. We need to set aside time each day to praise God. We need to praise him while we are working. We need to periodically shut off the TV and praise God. No one is ever too busy to praise God.
We do not praise God because he has low self-esteem. We do not praise him for his benefit, but for our own. We praise God not out of flattery or fear, but because it is the truth. He is great. He is wise. He is powerful. He is wonderful. He is mighty. We forget these things unless we say them. We begin to think that some human person, ourselves perhaps or a star, is the greatest, or, if get beyond this delusion, we begin to think that nothing in existence is really that great after all. If we are going to become Saints we have to learn the truth: there is someone wonderful in this universe and it is God.
Today’s psalm throws some light about how to get to Heaven. It asks, “Who can ascend the mountain of the LORD or who may stand in his holy place?” This was the very question we had, but the answer is not so easy as I had hoped: “One whose hands are sinless, whose heart is clean, who desires not what is useless.” I hear that and wonder whether there is any other way. If Heaven is only for those who have never sinned, then we may as well give up now. We are in luck though, we sinners. Jesus Christ came to forgive all of our sins. He forgives our sins without lowering the standard. A clean heart and sinless hands and pure desires are still necessary, but he will bring us up to the standard and even higher.
That higher standard is set today in the Gospel. We have here the beatitudes, these beautiful blessings. Some people consider them to be a kind of commandment, but I think they ought to be thought of more as a rule. In my house, where I grew up, there is a wall, where we stood as children while our mother marked our heights. Those marks, now barely visible, show how we grew, inch by inch.
The beatitudes are like that wall. Periodically we ought to stand up next to the beatitudes and see how we are growing. Do I care less about money? Am I dissatisfied with this world? Am I meeker? Do I hunger and thirst for justice? Am I more merciful? Are my desires more pure? Am I making peace in the world? Have I been persecuted for my faith? Inch by inch, reaching Heaven by inches, always growing, never shrinking back!
Do you see what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called the children of God? And so we are. We are his children now, but what we might yet be has not been revealed. We know a little, just glimpses, like in the book of Revelation today, but we cannot even imagine what it will really be like. We just know that it is going to be good. We just know that we want to be Saints forever.
I want to be a Saint forever, and I know that in your soul, each one of you, you do too. I know this because built into every human soul is a deep desire to be in Heaven. Some people mistake it as boredom or inexplicable sadness. It is dissatisfaction with this world. It is the mourning that Jesus calls blessed, the feeling that surely there is something more than just this. In some people it becomes greed or gluttony or lust, but neither riches nor fame can satisfy this desire. God has made us for himself, and we are restless until we rest in him.
Fr. Gaspar Fernandes, OFM Cap.