Sunday Sermon for November 1, 2020, the Solemnity of All Saints
Readings: Rev 7:2-4; 9-14; 1 Jn 3:1-3; Mt 5:1-12
As we celebrate this glorious solemnity in honor of all the Saints in Heaven, we must remind ourselves that this celebration is more for our benefit than for theirs. The Saints are already in Heaven; they already participate in the eternal glory of God. They are already filled to the fullness of their being with grace and charity; they are already loving and being loved to the fullness of their capacity. Therefore, the honor we give to them does not increase their glory nor does it make them any happier than they already are. So, why are we celebrating this feast and why is this feast so important that it has precedent over Sunday?
As mentioned in the first sentence, the celebration of this feast is more for us than for the Saints. It is wonderful that we give them their due honor, but it also reminds us that each one of us is called to be a Saint and that our lives on earth are a preparation for eternal life. More than 10,000 Saints are venerated by the Church. In the first reading St. John tells us about a great multitude which no one could count. These people came from every corner of the world and were all standing before the throne of God and of the Lamb. In other words, these people were all in Heaven.
It is important to notice the way St. John describes his vision: people from “every race, nation, people, and tongue.” No one is excluded. No one has a monopoly on salvation or sanctity. The Gospel reading helps us to understand that there is not one way of holiness that makes one a Saint. All the Saints practiced heroic virtue, and some exercised these virtues in a similar manner. But the Saints show us there are many different paths through life that lead us to Heaven.
Some were married, some were Religious, some were evangelists or missionaries, some were contemplatives. The Gospel today shows us that some mourned the situation in the world, others demonstrated meekness; some sought righteousness, and others focused on showing mercy. Some sought purity of heart while others strove to be peacemakers. I think we can assume that all of them, without exception, suffered persecution for doing what was right.
While there are many paths through life that lead to holiness, the elder who spoke to St. John informs the Saint of the one thing each of these people possessed in common: they have “survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb.” Since there is no salvation in any other Name than that of Jesus, each of these people had to be made clean in the Blood of the Lamb, even if they did not know Him during their time on earth.
Clearly, this description of “the time of great distress” is not about a singular event all these people survived. Rather, it seems to point to the fact that our life on earth is a time of distress. While there will be people in Heaven we may not expect to see because they did not know Jesus or worship Him during their lifetime, nonetheless, for those who do know Him, there is clearly a great advantage.
That said, we also must recall our Lord’s admonition that to those who are entrusted with more, more will be demanded. In the second reading, St. John tells us we are children of God. The world, he says, does not know us as God’s children because the world did not know Jesus. Do we know ourselves as children of God? Perhaps we know in our heads that we are children of God, but do we know ourselves, in the depths of our being, to be children of God? We will only know ourselves and the immense dignity which is ours if we know Jesus and what it means to be baptized into Him, to share His life, and to participate in His divine nature. If we have put our focus more on the world, we may not know Him and, consequently, we may not know our true identity and surpassing dignity as children of God.
To survive the time of great distress and make our robes white in the Blood of the Lamb means remaining faithful to the end. However, as we see in the readings, it is not merely remaining faithful to our belief in the truths of our holy faith, it is remaining faithful to God in the way we live according to these truths. When we celebrate the Saints, especially the “ordinary” ones whose names we do not know, it gives us great hope that we too can be counted among the Saints in Heaven.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.