Solemnity of All Saints

Back in the 70’s and 80’s. the battle cry for church reform was make it relevant.  There was the broad effort to communicate the Church’s message in terms understandable to the contemporary language, thinking and culture.  It was a move from the mystifying, hieratic and sacred to full and active participation, the vernacular, and accessibility.  Relevance.  I recently read another appeal that the Church is in danger from becoming irrelevant by its accommodation and absorption in the norms of culture.  Modern pluralism tolerates religion as long as it is a private affair and doesn’t try to impose itself in the public forum.  The fluid use of the term relevant pushes us to be clearer in the ways we use it.

What is relevant for us?  It seems to mean that it connects with what concerns us, that it is a real communication, a real conversation which draws us into a meaningful awareness, a communion.  It may be a confirmation of what we know and who we are, or it may be a correction which directs us to a changed perspective.  It is significant for the direction of our lives and goes beyond information or utility.

Are the saints and sanctity relevant to us?  They seem to represent another world apart from the real world.  This is a world of perfection, of distance from the conflicts and turmoil of mundane life.  Maybe saints are exemplars of those who have made it, those who have run the race and been awarded victors’ crowns.  They have done it, and so maybe can you.  They show us what is possible for humans with enough dedication.  But in showing us what is possible, they underline our deficiencies. Michael Jordan and Bishop Sheen may be models of superb athleticism and forensic skill, but having them as models doesn’t make me a great basketball player or preacher. Why can’t you be like your older brother?  It might be a mistake to take off all your clothes and leave your family, even if it did work for St. Francis.  It is another world.  When told she was a saint, Dorothy Day said she didn’t want to be dismissed to readily.  Being a saint seems to require membership in some elite club and having a privileged connection with sacred powers.  They have been raised to the altars!

The Beatitudes of today’s Gospel don’t seem to be a formula for being relevant to the world.  They are expressions of another world.  Being meek or poor in spirit is not going to attract the eyes of most employers.  They seem to be consolations for those who don’t relate well, those who don’t fit in.  But these are the ones whom Christ beatifies.  Blessed are you now.  Not: one day, you will be blessed.

You are holy now.  We are already children of God.  Holiness is being and living as a child of God.   Lumen Gentium of Vatican II brought to life the universal call to holiness of all Christians.  God sends His Spirit to interiorly move the hearts of Christians to love Him with all their heart and strength and to love one another as Christ loves us.   It is a holiness to be lived out in all the contexts of human life.  This love and spirit is the relatedness of God at work in all the situations of our life, not just in professional workshops which lose their relevance to human life.

The holiness of God intrudes in our daily life.  We can hear the demon crying out: we know who you are, the Holy One of God.  What have you to do with us? Have you come to destroy us? 

Saints often unsettle us because they awaken the power of holiness within us.  What is out there in them provokes what is in here, the latent holiness within ourselves.  We are interiorly moved.  We step into the new relevance that God has for us and that we have for God.  It is a connection and a communion.  It is the communion of saints.  The beatitudes become a call to holiness for us.

These are the ones who have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb.  This is a powerful image of the way we immerse the concreteness of our lives in the saving work of Christ, the transformation of our efforts and sufferings through their identification with the sanctifying action of Christ.  We are given His Spirit which suffuses the desires and efforts which form our lives.  Holiness is this process of God leading our lives into full communion with him.  It is another world in this world.