Solemnity of All Saints

Today we remember our destination to be the saints of God. In so doing we celebrate the holiness of life, the holiness of our own lives. As Pope Francis reminds us recently,

“To be holy does not require being a bishop, a priest or a religious. We are frequently tempted to think that holiness is only for those who can withdraw from ordinary affairs to spend much time in prayer. That is not the case. We are all called to be holy by living our lives with love and by bearing witness in everything we do, wherever we find ourselves. Are you called to the consecrated life? Be holy by living out your commitment with joy. Are you married? Be holy by loving and caring for your husband or wife, as Christ does for the Church. Do you work for a living? Be holy by labouring with integrity and skill in the service of your brothers and sisters. Are you a parent or grandparent? Be holy by patiently teaching the little ones how to follow Jesus. Are you in a position of authority? Be holy by working for the common good and renouncing personal gain.”[1]

We are what Pope Francis terms, “the saints next door.”

“I like to contemplate the holiness present in the patience of God’s people: in those parents who raise their children with immense love, in those men and women who work hard to support their families, in the sick, in elderly religious who never lose their smile. In their daily perseverance I see the holiness of the Church militant. Very often it is a holiness found in our next-door neighbours, those who, living in our midst, reflect God’s presence. We might call them ‘the middle class of holiness.'”[2]

I am not sure how ‘middle class’ we may describe ourselves but what the Pope is seeking to convey is that our holiness comes not from how public our life might be, but from how loving our life is, a love that is expressed most often in hidden and silent ways – ways not known to anyone else. Francis quotes Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, when she writes: “The greatest figures of prophecy and sanctity step forth out of the darkest night. But for the most part, the formative stream of the mystical life remains invisible. Certainly, the most decisive turning points in world history are substantially co-determined by souls whom no history book ever mentions. And we will only find out about those souls to whom we owe the decisive turning points in our personal lives on the day when all that is hidden is revealed.”[3]

Christian holiness then is not found in grand public attempts at perfectibility.  As Joan Chittister remarks, “What after all is ‘perfection’ and have we ever seen it?  Was Jacob perfect?  Was Jeremiah perfect?  Was Augustine perfect?  Was Teresa of Avila perfect?  Was Jesus perfect when he broke Jewish laws, got angry in the temple, walked out on the crowds in Galilee?”[4] Indeed, the gospel of the Beatitudes which we hear on this Solemnity will not allow us this illusion.  The Beatitudes are given us as a new charter for holiness.  They direct us to those evangelical moments where authentic holiness is manifest.  Do we really wish to find holiness?  Then we must go to those places of hunger and thirst.  Do we truly wish sanctity for ourselves?  Then we must go to those places inside us of mourning and we must listen for the voice of grief around us.  Do we yearn for beauty?  Then we must look beyond our fear into the face of disfigurement.  holiness is re-imagined.  Sanctity is re-defined.  No longer is holiness about fullness.  It is about emptiness.  No more is it about a kind of power.  It is about powerlessness.  No further is it about some kind of inviolability. It is about hope.

The great company in heaven are not those who have been or even now are perfect.  They are those who in their grief, in their vulnerability, and in their hope gazed upon the Father and received the beauty of God precisely in their lack and in their emptiness.  

These now form the great new community in heaven. We look forward one day to being one of them.

[1] Pope Francis, Gaudete et Exsultate, “On the Call to Holiness in Today’s World,” Apostolic Exhortation, (19 March 2018), n.14.

[2] Gaudete et Exsultate, n.7.

[3] Gaudete et Exsultate, n.8.

[4] Joan Chittister, The Fire in these Ashes (Kansas City:  Sheed and Ward, 1995), 116

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