31 October 2016

Homily - 1 November 2016 - The Solemnity of All Saints

The Solemnity of All Saints

Dear brothers and sisters,

Mother Church encourages us to “rejoice in the Lord, as we celebrate the feast day in honor of all the Saints, at whose festival the Angels rejoice and praise the Son of God” (Introit). As we contemplate this great panoply of heroes and exemplars, we see the wide spectrum of humanity. We see men and women, boys and girls, rich and poor, the famous and the unknown. There are monarchs and peasants, teachers and students, nurses and patients, prisoners and free, explorers and home-bodies, and, of course, the great martyrs. And there is room in their number for you and me.

All Saints from the Laudario of Sant'Agnese, Master of the Dominican Effigies, about 1340
As we gaze upon their wondrous multitude and ponder the stories of their lives, we cannot help but ask what holds this diverse group together. Their lives were all very different from each others, yet now they are bound together in an unbreakable bond of love. Each one of them, like each one of us, was baptized into Christ Jesus so “that we may be called the children of God” and might be made pure, “as he is pure” (I John3:1, 3). Because they grew into a union with Christ Jesus through a death like his, they stand now “before the throne and before the Lamb” (cf. Romans 6:5; Revelation 7:9). We, too, are called to do the same; in fact, our principle duty in life is to grow into a full union with the Lord Jesus, to become saints, but how do we do this?

The great J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, once referred to the saints as “those who have for all their imperfections never finally bowed heart and will to the world and the evil spirit.”[1] Through their struggles and adversities, they maintained their allegiance to Christ and strove to live always in his love.

In the end, they desired friendship with Jesus more than anything else; they stopped at nothing to remain his friends. They remembered what we too often forget, namely, that

God wants [our] friendship. And once you enter into friendship with god, everything in your life begins to change. As you come to know him better, you find you want to reflect something of his infinite goodness in your own life. You are attracted to the practice of virtue. You begin to see greed and selfishness and all the other sins for what they really are, destructive and dangerous tendencies that cause deep suffering and do great damage, and you want to avoid falling into that trap yourselves. You begin to feel compassion for people in difficulties and you are eager to do something to help them. You want to come to the aid of the poor and the hungry, you want to comfort the sorrowful, you want to be kind and generous. And once these things begin to matter to you, you are well on the way to becoming saints.[2]

The saints invite us join their company and they show us the way to never finally bow our heart and will to the Evil One.

Very often, all that separates us from them is our weak desire – our less than fervent desire – for the friendship of Jesus. Thinking holiness too far beyond us, we listen to the temptations of the Evil One. We allow him to magnify our imperfections and then we allow our desire for friendship with Jesus to lessen and fade. We forget that the tempter is “a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44) and so rob ourselves of the Lord’s grace. Even so, the Lord still calls out us to us and stirs our hearts to seek his face (cf. Psalm 24:6).

In truth, holiness is not beyond us. The Lord calls each of us to be holy. He does not ask us to do the impossible, but fills us with his grace each day. If we cooperate with his grace, holiness is very near to each one of us; it is only a confession and firm purpose of amendment of life away.

It might seem strange to say so, but holiness, really, is as easy as one, two, three. This, at least, was the message of the Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI at one of his General Audience Addresses. After speaking of the call to holiness, he asked, “What is the essential?” His answer consisted of three things:

The essential means never leaving a Sunday without an encounter with the Risen Christ in the Eucharist; this is not an additional burden but is light for the whole week. It means never beginning and never ending a day without at least a brief contact with God. And, on the path of our life it means following the “signposts” that God has communicated to us in the Ten Commandments, interpreted with Christ, which are merely the explanation of what love is in specific situations.[3]

The three steps to holiness, then, are these: go to Mass every Sunday and holyday; begin and end every day with prayer; and make every decision according to the light of the Ten Commandments. These three steps, he said, are “the true simplicity and greatness of a life of holiness.”[4]

Holiness really is that simple, but this does not mean holiness is easy. Holiness is simple because it means loving God and loving our neighbor with all our mind, soul, body, and strength. Holiness is simple because it has one focus, but loving in this way is not easy because love always requires a sacrifice.

May we never waver from taking up the Cross or shrink away from it because of its difficulty! Rather, let us always keep the essential before us and hope in the promised reward of seeing God face to face (cf. Matthew 5:12)! May the example and intercession of the Saints help us to desire friendship with God above all else. Amen!

[1] J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter to Christopher Tolkien, 30 January 1945. In The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien. Humphrey Carpenter, ed. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000), 110.

[2] Pope Benedict XVI, Address to Catholic School Students, 17 September 2010.

[3] Ibid., General Audience Address, 13 April 2011.

[4] Ibid.

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