Today the universal Church celebrates the solemn feast of All Saints. We remember not only the saints who have been formally canonized or recognized by the Church but also all those holy men and women who history has forgotten. The communion of saints is not limited merely to those people whom the Church has formally recognized as saints. There are many more people than we can imagine who lived quiet, hidden lives of virtue and holiness and are presently enjoying the Beatific vision of the Trinity in heaven with all the angels and saints. It is fitting that the Church should have a feast such as today to recall not only the vastness of the Communion of Saints throughout space and time, but also to give glory and thanks to God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) for His work of creation, salvation, and redemption. The communion of saints is an everlasting testimony to God’s providential love and care for His creation, especially for us human beings created in His image and likeness.
In one sense, the saints are those who have successfully united themselves to Christ in this life and have sought to live faithfully according to the message of the Gospel. They have been cleansed of all their sins and worldly attachments and are joyfully awaiting the final Resurrection of the righteous at the last day. As members of the Church Militant on earth, we strive by the grace of God to be counted among their number one day. As it says in the popular hymn For All the Saints, “O blest communion, fellowship divine! We feebly struggle, they in glory shine!” When we think about the sublime joy that they are experiencing for which we have no words to describe, we ourselves are filled with a sense of joyful hope and expectation. We rejoice with the saints that they have persevered through the trials and sufferings of this life, and we are enlightened and encouraged by their example and their teaching.
In another sense, all those who have been baptized are already counted among the communion of the saints. In the creed, when we profess our faith in the communion of saints and acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins, we recognize that we too are members of this one communion. As it says in the Catechism para. 946: “‘What is the Church if not the assembly of all the saints?’ The communion of saints is the Church.” Since we all form one body with the rest of the universal Church throughout space and time, we also share in the communion of goods that exists in the Church. We not only benefit from the merits and the sacrifices of the saints in heaven, we also benefit from the sacraments of the Church, especially the holy body and blood of Christ in the Holy Eucharist. As one body in Christ, we are all animated by the one Holy Spirit in the service of charity to our neighbor. It is our duty to strive to live in accord with our identity and our dignity as children of God and as members of the communion of saints. God willing, when we enter the kingdom of heaven, it will be because we responded positively to the grace of God, embraced our identity and our calling to holiness of life with our whole hearts, and sought to love God and to love our neighbor with every fiber of our being.
In his work entitled Jesus of Nazareth Pope Benedict XVI writes, “The saints are the true interpreters of Holy Scripture. The meaning of a given passage of the Bible becomes most intelligible in those human beings who have been totally transfixed by it and have lived it out. Interpretation of Scripture can never be a purely academic affair, and it cannot be relegated to the purely historical. Scripture is full of potential for the future, a potential that can only be opened up when someone ‘lives through’ and ‘suffers through’ the sacred text.” It is quite fitting that the Gospel reading for the feast of All Saints is the Beatitudes taken from the Sermon on the Mount, which the Catechism says are “at the heart of Jesus’ preaching.” In fact, the Beatitudes provide us with direct insight into the heart of Jesus Christ. Jesus himself exhibits the Beatitudes perfectly during his earthly ministry. The Catechism says in para. 1717: “The Beatitudes depict the countenance of Jesus Christ and portray his charity. They express the vocation of the faithful associated with the glory of his Passion and Resurrection; they shed light on the actions and attitudes characteristic of the Christian life; they are the paradoxical promises that sustain hope in the midst of tribulations; they proclaim the blessings and rewards already secured, however dimly, for Christ’s disciples; they have begun in the lives of the Virgin Mary and all the saints.” This should be a great consolation to us here on earth that the saints have found true blessedness by living the Beatitudes.
Pope Benedict XVI points out that the Beatitudes look forward to an eschatological fulfillment at the Resurrection from the dead, when the just will be rewarded with the happiness they are promised. Yet even though there is an eschatological dimension to the Beatitudes, the Holy Father says, “This must not…be taken to mean that the joy they proclaim is postponed until some infinitely remote future or applies exclusively to the next world. When man begins to see and to live from God’s perspective, when he is a companion on Jesus’ way, then he lives by new standards, and something of the eschaton, of the reality to come, is already present. Jesus brings joy into the midst of affliction.” In other words, when Jesus says “Blessed are the poor in spirit” or “Blessed are those who mourn,” he’s not suggesting that their happiness will only come at the end of time, but that they will experience joy right now in this present life, assuming that they are striving “to see and to live from God’s perspective” and not simply rely upon our own finite perspective of reality.
Pope Francis seems to agree with Pope Benedict XVI’s perspective. In an All Saints homily from 2015, Pope Francis says, “‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.’ How can those who weep be happy? Yet, those who in life have never felt sadness, angst, sorrow, will never know the power of comfort. Instead, happy are those with the capacity to be moved, the capacity to feel in their heart the sorrow that exists in their life and in the lives of others. They will be happy! Because the tender hand of God the Father will comfort them and will caress them.”
Since Jesus Christ has taken on our humanity and has suffered through everything we suffer, he has forged for us a path through our suffering towards everlasting life. If we freely and willingly choose to embrace the Beatitudes, to be poor in spirit rather than being ostentatious and hypocritical, to mourn with those who mourn and to weep with those who weep rather than remaining indifferent, to be meek and humble rather than arrogant and boastful, to hunger and thirst for righteousness and justice rather than ignoring the poor and the oppressed, to be merciful and quick to forgive rather than holding grudges and seeking revenge, to be peacemakers rather than sow division and discord, and to willingly suffer persecution and insults for the sake of righteousness without striking back in anger, then the face of Christ will become more and more visible through us and other people will be inspired to come to Christ. We will shine forth with the glory of the communion of saints united to Christ in perfect charity and we will find our happiness now as well as in the life to come. As Mother Angelica has famously said, “We are all called to be great saints. Don’t miss the opportunity.”
– Fr. Matthew Mary, MFVA