Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
The celebration of the great solemnity of All Saints reminds us of the vast cloud of witnesses, those holy men and women who have, in the words of St. Paul, competed well, run the race, and now merit the unfading crown of glory. The book of Revelation shows us the the sheer scope of this crowd – a multitude so vast that it cannot be numbered, from every nation, race, people, and tongue. Revelation shows us that there are and will be people from the world over who, following and loving Jesus in their lives, will attain everlasting glory. St. Paul goes so far as to apply the title “children of God” to those who have embraced the Gospel. Yet, he says, the world does not know us who are believers, the world does not know or understand we who have been redeemed by the Blood of Christ, does not recognize disciples of Jesus. All Saints’ Day reminds us that we have access to this cloud of witnesses. We can call upon the saints for their intercession before the throne of God, we can look to the lives of the saints as examples for us to emulate. All Saints’ Day reminds us that we are called to be saints, that the saving will of Jesus for us is that we would be counted in eternity among that multitude from every nation, race, people, and tongue who have been saved by the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The idea that we, ordinary folk, can be counted in that vast multitude, might at first seem unusual or difficult. Aren’t the saints extraordinary, heroic men and women, usually priests and nuns, or martyrs, who have accomplished much for the sake of the Kingdom of God? Yes! And at the same time, many of the saints lived virtually hidden, unknown lives. In fact, Revelation points us to that deep truth: the vast multitude beyond counting that John sees surrounding God’s throne in heaven is unnamed. In her history, the Catholic Church has canonized many saints, that is, has stated definitively that certain people are in heaven. Canonization, however, is not required for one to be a saint. Since the time of Christ, people who have followed Christ, who have confessed and lived by the Good News of the Gospel, have been seeking holiness of life and have gone before us to their heavenly reward. Anyone in heaven is a saint, a holy one, redeemed by God’s saving grace, who now can intercede for us before the Father’s throne.
Throughout the Church’s history, we see people from all walks of life fervently embracing their faith and seeking holiness. Holiness is expected, especially, from those who have dedicated their lives to God and to proclaiming the Gospel, namely, clergy and consecrated religious. But the ranks of canonized saints are not limited to them. On the contrary, there are kings and queens, beggars and workers, men and women, children and adults who have attained the heights of holiness and been recognized by the Church for that sanctity of life. Nevertheless, in every age the Church has been called upon to remind people of the truth that they can become saints.
At the heart of the Second Vatican Council we find this cry once again. In the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium), the central chapter deals with the Universal Call to Holiness. In that brief but beautiful section, the Church calls all people, regardless of their state in life, to “the perfection of charity,” to seek holiness and perfection according to their state in life. At the heart of the Council’s document about the Church, that is, the expression of how the Church understands herself, we find this powerful emphasis on the universal call to holiness. This tells us that the Catholic Church not only wants all those who count themselves Catholic – whether clergy, religious, or laity – to hear the call of God to holiness of life. To be a saint, as St. Teresa of Calcutta said, is not something just for a few, but rather a simple duty for you and for me. If the universal call to holiness is at the heart of Vatican II’s document on the Church, which is at the heart of the whole Council, then the heart of Vatican II is the call to holiness. The Church exists to sanctify the whole world. The mission for every Catholic is to become holy themselves, and with their very lives, to aid others on the path of true discipleship and sanctity.
All Saints’ Day reminds us that we can become holy here and now. We look forward to the glory of heaven, but sanctity is not something that happens when we get to heaven. Rather, sanctity is something we seek, cultivate, and practice here and now, and it is that effort to be holy, that confession of faith in Jesus Christ, that life on earth that unites us to God in prayer, that leads us to the heavenly reward. We Catholics can call upon those who have preceded us on the journey, those witnesses, named or unnamed, who night and day praise God and intercede for the Church. We are never far removed from them. So today, let us call upon their intercession, follow their example, and seek, in union with the whole Church, to grow in holiness every day.