The celebration of All Saints is an ancient joint feast commemorating the martyrs, especially the men and women who were executed for the faith by the Roman Emperor. Eventually this feast expanded to include all the saints in heaven. We hear the martyrs in heaven described in the book of Revelation.
Saint Bernard of Clairvoux gave an excellent thought for today in a homily he gave:
“Calling the saints to mind inspires, or rather arouses in us, above all else, a longing to enjoy their company, so desirable in itself. We long to share in the citizenship of heaven, to dwell with the spirits of the blessed, to join the assembly of patriarchs, the ranks of the prophets, the council of apostles, the great host of martyrs, the noble company of confessors and the choir of virgins. In short, we long to be united in happiness with all the saints. But our dispositions change. The Church of all the first followers of Christ awaits us, but we do nothing about it. The saints want us to be with them, and we are indifferent. The souls of the just await us, and we ignore them.
Come, brothers, let us at length spur ourselves on. We must rise again with Christ, we must seek the world which is above and set our mind on the things of heaven. Let us long for those who are longing for us, hasten to those who are waiting for us, and ask those who look for our coming to intercede for us. We should not only want to be with the saints, we should also hope to possess their happiness. While we desire to be in their company, we must also earnestly seek to share in their glory. Do not imagine that there is anything harmful in such an ambition as this; there is no danger in setting our hearts on such glory” (Saint Bernard, Homily, Office of Readings Nov 1).
Being so close to these people on fire for God we too should be ignited with this fire. We should soundly reject anything in our lives which turns us away from God! Heaven isn’t something that just happens to everybody no matter how they live their lives. That’s not what Jesus taught at all. Jesus calls us to follow Him, and we can always choose to not follow him.
This call from our Lord is a call to conversion of life, to respond to the call to holiness. One’s vocation is the pathway that God has prepared for the salvation of that soul. That’s why it is so important to really carefully discern one’s vocation. I remember when I was growing up I wanted a family, but after praying and carefully paying attention to the events in my life I heard our Lord calling me to be a priest. If you are a young person, be generous with God! Do not simply go along with the flow. He has great plans for each single person, but it is up to us to listen and to answer His call.
It’s not easy always being faithful, especially in this day and age. This is where the teaching on the communion of saints is so helpful. We are in solidarity with the souls in heaven as well as the souls in purgatory. Yes, purgatory is a reality, and we need to keep praying for all our departed loved ones. The saints in heaven can be a great help for growing in holiness, closer to God. They can be a big help for overcoming vice or habitual sin.
There are 3 things we could take away from this solemnity:
1. Get to know the saints. Read their lives. They were human and had the same struggles you and I have. Just as there are different personalities, so too for the saints. They did not ever let their struggles overcome them. Did you know many saints were drawn to a point of deep conversion by reading about other saints? St Ignatius of Loyola, St Francis Xavier, St Aloysius Gonzaga, St Augustine…
2. Pray to the saints. Ask their intercession, especially if you have a particular need. We shouldn’t just go to saint Joseph to help sell a house.
3. Become a saint. yes. Be magnanimous. Live life for Christ, who gave us our lives and sustains us in the Sacraments. prayer, virtue, a life of self denial are the marks of one who is responding to our Lord’s call to holiness. To really live is to say “yes” to God, and “no” to our own selfish plans. His plans are infinitely greater than your or my plans ever could be. Are we faithful to the Sacraments—do we make every effort to come to daily mass, to pray the rosary everyday, to make a visit to the Blessed Sacrament, to live the works of mercy, to help your family to live the faith—to bring God into the home? Do we pray for the souls in purgatory—not praying for the souls in purgatory is a failure in charity!
In the words of Saint Clement, one of the other martyrs in the Roman Canon:
“We should then strive with the greatest zeal to be found among the number of those who await him, so that we may share in the promised gifts. How will this be, beloved? If our mind is fixed on God through faith, if we are diligent in seeking what is pleasing and acceptable to him, if we fulfill what is according to his blameless will and follow the way of truth, casting away from ourselves all that is unholy” (Letter to the Corinthians).