All Saints Feast

Homily for All Saints’ Feast,

Who wants to be a saint? The answer is obvious, but, sorry for being a bit insistent, I ask you – I ask us – who will dare sincerely to say in the morning before his or her mirror ‘I want to be a saint, a saint like Mother Theresa of Calcutta, a saint like Thomas More, a saint like John Paul II. ‘No, not me! It is impossible to share the holiness of such great people’. Or ‘perhaps’, but not now, first I shall finish my studies’. It seems to me that we very often tend to forget that we are all called to holiness whatever our commitments may be, whatever our vocation, whether to be married, single, consecrated. I can see several reasons explaining such a state of mind: a false idea of holiness, conceived as a kind of spiritual, human, and moral perfection; a false judgment of ourselves; very often we judge ourselves very severely, looking at ourselves only through our weakness and our sins; and our pride: as the best way to avoid failure is by refusing to try. The common point in all these attitudes is the over emphasis on our ‘self’: we lean on ourselves instead of leaning first on God.

As we hear the Lord’s injunctions: be holy as I myself am holy, or as we have heard in the second reading ‘we all be like him’ like Christ, we grow scared and discouraged. Leaning on our small strength, how can this ever be possible? This is a trap of the devil who wants to keep us focused on ourselves and prevent us from turning our eyes towards God, from leaning on him who is confident in us.
Let us hear again the Lord’s words: ‘Think of the love that the Father has lavished on us, by letting us be called God’s children; and that is what we are’. Let us hear Jesus Christ’s voice saying, happy are you, the kingdom of heaven is yours.
In fact, the Sermon on the Mount says to us that being holy is to enter into the happiness of the kingdom of heaven. So first holiness is a mystery of happiness. Both happiness and kingdom of heaven are connected, ‘happy the poor, the persecuted, theirs is the kingdom’. The kingdom is manifested in Christ himself. A bit earlier in the Gospel (4,17), starting to preach, Jesus says ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’ he means through me, in me.

So the reality of the kingdom of heaven is fulfilled through Christ’s presence. The poor in spirit, that means the humble, and the persecuted in the cause of right, experience the presence of Christ who humbles himself and suffers his passion for our sake. Consequently we may say that since the Incarnation, since the Second person of the Trinity’s coming, the kingdom of heaven is here. But, on the other hand, we may hear in another sense that the kingdom is still to come: ‘happy the gentle, they shall have the earth as their heritage, happy those who mourns, they shall be comforted…’. The gift of the Kingdom, of Christ is given but we still have to welcome or to integrate it into our life. We have to let the deep reality of Christ’s presence invade and transform all our being, mind and body. So being holy is also being patient. Holiness is a mystery of patience that may imply sufferings. There is a gap between Christ and us, a gap that he wants to fill but that we must allow to be filled by him and by nobody else: this is the meaning of Jesus’ words: happy the pure in heart, that means those whose heart is to him alone, nor shared or divided. That’s why to be holy is also to be abandoned. Holiness is a mystery of abandon that means to accept that our will is to do freely God’s will as it is manifested to us through the events of our life.

But “why should our praise and glorification, or even the celebration of this Solemnity, mean anything to the Saints?”. A famous homily of St Bernard for All Saints’ Day begins with this question. It could equally well be asked today. And the response the Saint offers us is also timely: “The Saints”, he says, “have no need of honor from us; neither does our devotion add the slightest thing to what is theirs…. But I tell you, when I think of them, I feel myself inflamed by a tremendous yearning” (Disc. 2, Opera Omnia Cisterc. 5, 364ff.).

This, then, is the meaning of today’s Solemnity: looking at the shining example of the Saints to reawaken within us the great longing to be like them; happy to live near God, in his light, in the great family of God’s friends. Being a Saint means living close to God, to live in his family. And this is the vocation of us all, vigorously reaffirmed by the Second Vatican Council and solemnly proposed today for our attention.

But how can we become holy, friends of God? We can first give a negative answer to this question: to be a Saint requires neither extraordinary actions or works nor the possession of exceptional charisms. Then comes the positive reply: it is necessary first of all to listen to Jesus and then to follow him without losing heart when faced by difficulties. “If anyone serves me”, he warns us, “he must follow me; and where I am, there shall my servant be also; if any one serves me, the Father will honor him” (Jn 12: 26).

You may have heard of blessed Charles de Foucault. He was born in a very wealthy family and very young became an orphan. As a student he lived a much disorganized life, and then he converted and was ordained a priest and settled in the desert among Muslims. Even if he knew the dangers of such a life, he was convinced that he was doing God’s will. He who used to be so proud, so self- centered was discovering happiness in this silent testimony. He wrote this famous prayer at the end of his life:

Father, I abandon myself into your hands, do with me what you will. Whatever you may do, I thank you. I am ready for all, I accept all, (…) for you are my Father.

Holiness consists in this secret movement of the heart, which looks up at God as at a beloved father. To be holy is to be a son/daughter. Holiness is the mystery of our divine adoption. To be holy is to realize day after day that we are Sons and daughters of God. He is looking at me, he is looking for me, and he is looking after me. Let me conclude by quoting some words written by the blessed John Henry Newman:

God has created all things for good; all things for their greatest good; everything for its own good. What is the good of one is not the good of another; what makes one man happy would make another unhappy. God has determined, unless I interfere with His plan, that I should reach that which will be my greatest happiness. He looks on me individually. He calls me by my name; He knows what I can do, what I can best be, what is my greatest happiness, and He means to give it to me.

Whatever our pains, sufferings or difficulties, whatever our successes and joys, we are in his tender hands. Rejoice and be glad at having such a God. Amen.

Fr. A. Francis HGN

Posted in Messages from Fr. Francis