Q: Archbishop J, why celebrate All Saints?
The saints are our elder brothers and sisters in the faith. They have gone before us and have triumphed over mediocrity, selfishness and sin. They have made their lives a courageous offering to God. Against all the odds, they stand out and their light shines.
Saints have nothing more than we have; they do not have any special or extraordinary grace. Like us, they struggle with faith, discerning their vocation in obedience to God; through the generosity of their lives, dying to self and allowing Christ to become all in all.
Those whom we honour as saints today did not start as we see them now. Like us they had doubts, prejudices, failures and struggles over which they agonised. This is important for us to remember! The saints began as we begin in need of salvation from Jesus Christ.
What separates them from us is the depth of their surrender to Christ’s love and grace, the way they put God before all else, the love they had for their fellowmen and the deep insatiable desire they had for God.
Maybe, because they have drawn close to Christ, they see the truth of sin and the truth of the human condition—the truth that only God could save us. By experiencing this deep and fundamental truth they have responded to God with much love and devotion.
The saints experience what God is doing for them in Jesus Christ and their gratitude is boundless. Their desire for God is unfettered and their lives are shaped and moulded by this generosity.
Remember the meeting between the woman with a bad reputation and Jesus in Simon’s house (Lk 7:36–50). In this passage Jesus equated the response to being forgiven with love poured out. Those who are forgiven much will love much.
Each of us has a favourite saint for different occasions and purposes. If you lose something, you turn to St Anthony.
If you have a difficult person to deal with, someone who is resisting God, you know the one to whom you must look is St Jude—for help in hopeless cases.
We see St Martin de Porres as the miracle worker, turn readily to St Michael for protection and to St Joseph for fatherly care. Then, there are several others to whom we may have devotion.
What about the saints we do not know? The men and women who lived heroic lives, yet in obscurity they lived and in obscurity they died. They were never declared saints, and no-one knows, necessarily, that they are in Heaven.
We can be sure there are many women and men in Heaven who have not been recognised by the Church as saints. Their lives are of great benefit to us as they intercede before the throne of God.
The Feast of All Saints is for all the unsung heroes of the faith who have gone before us, those known and unknown whose lives were configured to Christ. They are now in Heaven and are our intercessors. The saints, including the unknown ones, are part of us and we are in communion with them.
A Communion of Saints
The Catholic world is populated with many types of beings. There are those who have gone before us and are in the heavenly court with the angels and the One of great age who sits on the throne. They pray for us.
Then, there are those who have died and are not in Heaven. They wait to be set free. We have the privilege and obligation to pray for them.
And, there are the living who are on their way to God. The saints pray for us.
The author of the Book of Hebrews says: “…since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders … and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Heb 12:1–2).
Here we see another reason for celebrating the saints. Like Jesus they were configured to God’s will through grace. Though they had to endure much suffering, they gave their lives with joy, witnessing to what is truly important while on this earth. They remind us that our true home is in Heaven. Their witness encourages us to press forward in the struggle against sin. The saints form so great a cloud of witnesses!
The saints’ witness reminds us of our vocation—to become saints. While we live our lives with much passion, giving due attention to all our cares and responsibilities, let us remember we are destined for eternity with God. If we live this vocation, one day we will be celebrated with all the saints on this day.
I have known saints, I believe, although they are not canonised yet; among them Archbishop Anthony Pantin our first local archbishop and Rose Williams who raised over 80 children in her home during her lifetime. None was her own: all called her mother.
Let us celebrate all the saints who form a cloud of witnesses, interceding for us and reminding us of our true home.
Key Message: All Saints is about the unsung heroes of the faith who minister to us by their inter-cession and remind us of our vocation to sanctity.
Action Step: Meditate on your vocation to be a saint. Do you live for God, to be with Him forever in the next world? Do concrete acts of surrender to God every day.
Scripture Reading: 1 Timothy 6:12–16