Solemnity of All Saints

Scripture Readings: Rev 7:2-4, 9-14;  1 Jn 3:1-3;  Mt 5:1-12a

The solemnity of All Saints strikes me as a very monastic feast. On this day the church celebrates admiration. Jean Leclercq, in his classic book The Love of Learning and the Desire for God, has distinguished monastic theology as a “theology of admiration.” Pope Benedict XVI has described it as a “theology of the heart.” Leclercq notes that whereas the scholastics studied theology in order to give reasons for faith, monks studied “the greatness of God and His works in order to admire them.”

God and the Church give us saints for admiration. Admiration is a feeling we get toward what is admirable. It is an elevated feeling that moves us…it moves us toward emulation …hopefully. The greatest threat to admiration, and to living in the truth,is resentment or contempt. These cause us to distort authentic values, the important-in-itself. Admiration is how we must respond to value, to the “important-in-itself.” When we respond in that light, we are living in ultimate reality.

So, monastic life is ordered toward admiring.  An important part of formation is learning to trust that one’s feelings of admiration are toward the truly admirable. By the practice of canonization, the Church encourages this trust. The feast day of any saint, and especially today’s solemnity, tell us that these women and men are good people. What are “good people”? The Church points to saints and says, “Good people are like that!” Good people are identified by one’s feelings of admiration. They are exemplars

An exemplar is someone we want to imitate, to emulate. We may admire their acquired traits such as kindness, honesty, or generosity, and we may admire their natural traits such as musical or academic or mechanical ability.  With the saints, though, there is still another category of traits we find admirable: special graces. Exemplars here are such persons as Padre Pio and Teresa of Avila.  

Acquired traits, though, will most appeal to us as something we, too, could acquire. That appeal and effort-to-emulate is very important to monastic formation. So this day highlights for us not only the benefits of admiration for canonized saints, but for those ahead of us in the spiritual life, i.e., for our monastic seniors.

Monastic seniors are a chief drawing card for those who find monastic life desirable. They exemplify what monastic’s do, how they think, what they value, and what their aims are.  If a candidate admires what she sees in these things, she will likely want to be a part of it. These are how they “truly seek God.” St. Benedict says that these things are shown not in socially graceful conduct or in security in the favor of the leadership. They are shown by “perseverance in the monastery until death.” That is what the candidate wants to notice and admire. Awkwardness in monastic living is not important; perseverance is. Why?

It is because we study God in order to admire Him. Admiration is a form of love; of preference for the other. We saw yesterday that Christ taught the supreme importance of a person’s interior state. It should be centered on love. Admiration is a surrender of the heart to value, to the important-in-itself, to God and the things of God. And God is love. Monastic sisters and brothers are made in the image and likeness of God.

One comes here well-educated in the history of the world and knows it is a history of sin. Yet what we find most admirable about God is His goodness shown in LOYALTY to the world. We, made in His image & likeness, want to emulate that loyalty in spite of our various forms of self-centeredness. Whether one be graceful or awkward, that loyalty is shown through perseverance. Now that’s admirable!


Solemnity of All Saints

Scripture Readings: Rev 7:2-4, 9-14; l Jn 3:1-3; Mt. 5:1-12a

Through the “wonders” of television, we have regular access to the great physical feats of performers   in the fields of athletics, gymnastics, dance, swimming and diving.  We can watch them make twists and turns and somehow land on their feet.  A basketball player can catch a rebound, dribble down the court and make a three-point shot from midcourt.  Their bodies move with a flow and ease that seem to defy gravity.  It looks “effortless” because all their energy and movement is coordinated and balanced through an inner unity of action and thought.  We call it graceful because it seems to be inspired by another dimension which brings all the physical aspects beyond themselves.  We see what the human body and person is capable of.

Saints don’t have cameras from CBS or ESPN trained on them.  In fact, they draw little attention to themselves.  But they
also let us see what the human person is capable of.   Being poor, merciful, meek, enduring persecution tend to remove one from any limelight.  We have a hard time admitting that the Beatitudes are anything but a default position—for those who couldn’t do any better.  We don’t look for our models or heroes in their ranks.  But Jesus calls them “blessed.”  They are already “canonized” for having the roots of their lives sunk deeply in the ground of the Kingdom. They are the “friends of God.”  Those who had no voice in our world, those who have been silenced, and those whom we might have silenced are those who (in the Kingdom) cry out with a loud voice: Salvation comes from our God.

Salvation comes from our God.  The holiness which transforms our life comes from our God.  Sanctity is allowing the holiness of God to become manifest in our lives.  This is the vocation of all Christians. Vatican II startled many people by proclaiming the universal call to holiness.  Holiness is not the preserve of professionals.  God sent the Holy Spirit to all to move them interiorly to love God with their whole heart, soul, and strength and to love one another as Christ loved them.  All Christians in the conditions, duties, and circumstances of their life and through them will sanctify themselves more and more if they receive all things with faith  from the hand of the Heavenly Father and cooperate with the divine will, thus manifesting in that temporal service the love with which God loved the world (Lumen Gentium). The energy and movement of our life is called to be a manifestation and realization of the very spirit and holiness of God.  We are bearers of the Spirit of holiness.

The reality is more overwhelming than the thought.  The call to holiness is a disruptive earthquake that unsettles any stability and security we try to ground in our selves.  Lawrence Cunningham has said that the saint is a person so grasped by a religious vision that it becomes central  to his or her entire life in a way that radically changes the person and leads others to glimpse the values of that vision.  The Beatitudes express the life and vision of Jesus and we are invited to glimpse those values and let the Spirit lead us to incarnate them in our lives.  It will radically change us.

We can easily concoct a tame version of holiness, see it as an esoteric luxury for those separated from the “real” world.  Intact, porcelain figurines to be kept out of harm’s way.  It was against this idea of holiness that Dorothy Day reacted when someone told her she was a “saint.”  I don’t want to be dismissed that easily, she said.  Saints can be annoying and disturbing people because they have trouble “fitting in.”  The Beatitudes are also hard to “fit in” to the principles and powers of our culture.  Saints can appear to be flawed and contradictory.  Even Mother Teresa of Calcutta, at the time of her canonization, was said by some to “be no saint.”  (They thought she had misused funds which could have been used to build hospitals, etc.)  The saints have no need to hide or dissimulate the flaws in their lives.  They are not concerned about the face that media and television will see.  Their face is turned to God.  They are servants of his holiness—a holiness which is mysterious, hidden, and sometimes apparently self-contradictory.  Its coherence flows from a deeper harmony with the movement of God.  His unpredictable movements create the surprise of grace which invests and inspires our own efforts to follow his lead.

In our opening prayer, we asked for the abundance of reconciliation with you for which we earnestly long.  This longing and desire is the life of the spirit of holiness already in our hearts.  We are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed.  We are given glimpses in the lives of those who already live in the communion of grace which is holiness.  We celebrate the communion of saints, the communion which is made real and alive in holiness.  Holiness makes real the communion we desire with God, with one another, and with the whole of creation.




Solemnity of All Saints

[Scripture Readings: Rev. 7:2-4, 9-14; 1 Jn 3:1-3; Mt 5:1-12a]

The saints are given to us today as models of the two great love commandments. And the beatitudes are given as the conditions for living out that love.

There are what Catholic philosopher's call “essential traits of love” and these can be found in the beatitudes. They center on the idea that love is an appreciation of the intrinsic value of the beloved, rather than viewing the beloved in terms of benefit to self.

The poor in spirit are able to be sufficiently free of valuing things for their effect on self and to see instead the value a person or thing has in itself. Rather than being driven by their own needs, they are able to be drawn by the good-in-itself of the object of their love.

The meek and those who mourn are comforted by being able to delight in what is for the good of the beloved. They are thereby freed of the bondage of self. They are able to be mindful of God even in the absence of any conscious intention to do so.

Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness strive for union with the beloved and to benefit the beloved for the beloved's highest good. This meant they made themselves vulnerable to the loved one. They took the risk of pursuing the good of the other without knowing if that love would be reciprocated.

The merciful and the peacemakers are able to love, to affirm the intrinsic value of the beloved, even in adversity. In other words, they are committed to the good of the other out of a deeply felt conviction of the others inherent goodness even when such goodness is not immediately apparent. They, too, could risk a non-return of their love.

This extraordinary commitment in adversity is particularly seen in those suffering insult and persecution, objectively or subjectively. The essential trait of love most evident here is that of self-donation. Of the array of responses one can make to such adverse experiences, the lover, the saint, prefers enduring for the sake of the beloved.

This kind of committed love characterizes the pure of heart. For the pure of heart love is the most deeply felt way of responding to what is valuable in itself. It is precisely this aspect of deep feeling, of affective commitment that distinguishes not only the canonized saints, but those who have been a part of our lives and have impacted them in a memorably self-giving way.

Mental acts are driven by appetites such as hunger, thirst, and sexual desire. The heart, on the other hand, is drawn to respond to values such as reverence, respect and love. A drive can be satisfied, put to rest. Values endure and maintain their power to attract. Love sees the other not as an instrument for satisfaction of needs, but as beautiful and good for its own sake. Thus St. Bernard writes that the reason for loving God is God Himself.

The purity of heart that the saints exemplify the importance of our affections, of what attracts us and what repulses us. With our intellect we count things, but with our affections things count for us. Without emotional involvement, things do not make a difference in our lives. Without emotional involvement, God does not make a difference in our lives.

Is not only an intensity of feeling; it is the structure of a relationship. The structure is simply this: God is the Giver; we are the Receivers. Being in the image and likeness of God, we pass that structure on to others by giving and receiving to and from them.

Solemnity of All Saints

[Scripture Readings: Rev 7:2-4, 9-14; 1 Jn 3:1-3; Mt 5:1-12a]

Monastic theology has been described as a theology of admiration. St. Bernard has said that when we admire the saints, we add nothing to their glory or their happiness. They see the face of God constantly and so need nothing from us. We admire them for our good. The good that we receive in doing that is the beatitudes, particularly that of purity of heart. We admire the saints as models of happiness.

The purity of heart that the saints exemplify is not an intensity of feeling; it is the structure of a relationship. The structure is simply this: God is the Giver; we are the Receivers. Because of that structure, our very nature is to love God more than self. Such a love defines a saint.

Every one of the Beatitudes tells us that we are to be Receivers. It tells us what we will receive by preferring God: comfort, land, satisfaction, mercy and righteousness to name a few. Most importantly we will receive the vision of God, that is, we will spend eternity in admiration.

Being a Receiver means that we must be empty. We are emptied by God because our pride makes the status of receiver unbearable. It is unbearable because what is received is unconditional love. To receive that is to allow what we know we don't deserve; to accept what it is impossible to pay for. This will make us resentful. Yet the anger will be but a stage of our progress. As one spiritual sage told me years ago, “If you're not angry, you're not paying attention!” Admiring and emulating the Saints will show us how to be empty and to receive.

The place that is emptied is the heart, the place of love. The effect of that emptying of the heart is that the receiver becomes a Giver.

This is remarkable. It is a conversion. A fallen people, centered on self, prone to taking and getting, becomes giving. Admiration overcomes the sadness that such good takes effort. This is done by the power received from God. And the converted become giving to please the God they admire most.

Monastic life as a life of admiration and emulation frees us from obstacles to love and promotes loves deepening. Although separated from the world, this liberation does not alienate us from the world. We are freed from the sense of deprivation that comes when the world does not gives us true fulfillment from the things that it holds.We come to realize that what the world doesn't hold, it can't withhold.

With this liberation we realize, too, that our fulfillment comes from living for an end. We are living toward union with God by giving our lives for the sake of others. We have a direction, a purpose and all else is evaluated according to its contribution to that end. The Saints and we are able to give because of the God we worship and Christ who dwells in us. We are able to give because God first gave to us precisely so we could share with others. As St. Aelred writes, “What belongs to each one personally belongs to all, and all things belong to each one.”

It is for us to pass it on.

Solemnity of All Saints

[Scripture Readings: Rev. 7:2-4, 9-14; 1 Jn 3:1-3; Mt 5:1-12a]

When people are planning a celebration such as a wedding or a golden anniversary the big question is who should we invite? This is a real mine field of a question. You can’t invite everyone so maybe the better question is, who should we not invite? Yesterday’s Gospel tackled this question in a most unusual way. Our Lord says when you hold a banquet invite those who cannot repay you, the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. I know, and perhaps you know, families that do just this. For their Thanksgiving meal they invite a few people from nursing homes who have nowhere to go, or others who are in general left out of the good things of life. The Gospel story ends with the words, “Blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just” (Mt.13:12-14).

Today we are celebrating the resurrection of all these just people — a great multitude of them. Revelations tells of so many from every nation, race and people and tongue that no one could count them. Who are they? The ones who walked through life following in the footsteps of Christ the best they could. They are not super stars like the canonized saints, they are not the mother Teresa’s or the John Vianney’s, they are the little people whom we knew—perhaps our parents, or fellow monks. They are the people we live with right now and who are destined to see God as he is and who someday will be revealed first to themselves and then to us as being like God though right now their holiness is hidden.

These are the multitudes that have stood before the mirror of the Beatitudes and in a humble way say yes I see some of myself in one or two of these beatitudes. Our first reading today leads us to believe there are millions and millions of these people—a multitude that no one could count it says. Yet, a few days ago, I believe it was the Gospel last Wednesday, someone asked Jesus, “Lord will only a few people be saved?” (Mt. 13:23). Many are called, he answered, but few are chosen. How do we reconcile these two passages? I certainly do not have an answer but here is an observation. Just before the story of the few and the narrow gate there are two parables, one about the mustard seed that grows into a huge tree and one about the yeast that raises the whole batch of dough. These are stories of unexpected largesse, of little actions having unbounded results. On the other hand the narrow gate story is addressed to those who are expecting salvation, those who see themselves as insiders, who thought of themselves as first and others as last. But even in this story of reversal the banquet table of heaven is filled, Luke tells us, with people who come from the east, and west and from the north and south—from all corners of the earth.

I do not know anyone who says about themselves that they are assured salvation, that they are living the Beatitudes and doing everything right. Think of all the people you know who have died parents, relatives, fellow monks and nuns anyone at all, did any of them brag about their living the faith. Weren’t they more like the tiny mustered seed whose fullness was hidden in the earth and only gradually blossomed? Was not their holiness hidden even from themselves as described by St. John when he says, “What we shall be has not yet been revealed”?

The saints we celebrate today are the people we know and who lived their faith. They seemed ordinary enough but as we look back on them they were really giants, the type described in the letter to the Hebrews, “They did not receive what had been promised but saw it and greeted it from afar and acknowledged themselves as strangers and aliens on earth, for those who speak thus about themselves show they are seeking a homeland” (Heb. 11:13-14).

Now they have found their homeland and we rejoice with them and ask them to pray for us that someday we may join them.

Solemnity of All Saints

[Scripture Readings: Rev 7:2-4, 9-14; 1 Jn 3:1-3, Mt. 5:1-12a]

After Charlie Brown’s team lost another baseball game, he went to Lucy and paid five cents for her psychiatric help. She said: “Adversity builds character. Without adversity a person would never mature and be able to face up to all the things that will come later in life.” Charlie asked, “What things?” She replied, “More adversity.

G. K. Chesterton once said, “I like getting into hot water, it keeps you clean.” The Eight Beatitudes describe all kinds of adversity. They are like tubs of cleansing hot water that purify our hearts. St. Paul tells us it is “through many tribulations that we enter the kingdom of God(Acts 14:22). Like the hot waters of insults and persecution, hunger and thirst, poverty and oppression, sorrow and mourning

In the communion of saints some suffered the scalding tubs of martyrdom like St. Peter who was crucified upside down, or St. Lawrence who was roasted to death on a gridiron, or St. Maximilian Kolbe who took the place of a fellow prisoner in the concentration camp of Auschwitz and was condemned to die by starvation, or most recently our seven Trappist martyrs of Algiers who were beheaded.

Many others endured the hot waters of a prolonged daily martyrdom. Dr. Viktor Frankl, author of “Man’s Search for Meaning,” was imprisoned in World War Two because he was a Jew. His wife, children, and parents were all murdered in the Holocaust. Entering the concentration camp, he was made to strip naked. Even his wedding ring was taken away from him. At that moment he made a decision. He said to himself, “They can take away my wife, my children, my clothes, and my physical freedom. But no one can take away my freedom to choose how I will react to what happens to me.” Later he wrote, “We who lived in concentration camps can remember those who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken away except one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

St. Edith Stein received the gift of conversion to Catholicism when she witnessed a friend being transformed by a daily martyrdom. Edith Stein was an atheist at the time her friend’s husband died. Frau Reinach had been a radiantly happy wife. Edith expected to find a broken, hopeless widow. But Frau Reinach’s painful blow was met by an ardent transforming faith giving her the strength to stand tall in the face of such adversity. Edith wrote, “For the first time I saw before my very eyes the Church born of Christ’s redemptive suffering, victorious over the sting of death. My unbelief was shattered.” The hot waters of this widow’s daily martyrdom splashed over the sides of her life and baptized Edith Stein. She joined the Carmelites and became Sr. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.

The universal call to holiness sometimes ends in the gift of martyrdom, but it does not begin there. The list of Eight Beatitudes ends with suffering, persecution and death for the sake of righteousness. But it begins with the poor in spirit, the meek, the merciful, the clean of heart, the peacemakers. These more common tubs of hot water are only painful to the sensitive skin of ambition, greed, pride, self-righteousness, impurity, and vengeance.

Fr. Edward Schillebeeckx, a Dominican Theologian, described his experience of the simple, unassuming, unpretentious holiness that is within reach of every person. After receiving the novice’s habit he wrote a boastful letter to his parents about his daily sacrifice of rising in the middle of the night to praise God and intercede for the world. In reply, his father wrote that he too had known the midnight office—the many sleepless vigils he and his wife had spent caring for him as an infant, and, after him, all the other members of the family.

In the cleansing waters of the Eight Beatitudes we can purify our most ordinary experiences. Once a young boy at summer camp received a box of cookies in the mail. He put the box on his bed, but later it was missing. That evening the camp counselor happened to see the boy who stole the cookies eating them. Next day the counselor went to the victim and said, “I know who took your cookies and I will tell you who it is, but I want your help to teach him a lesson.” The boy agreed. Giving him a new package of cookies the counselor said, “The one who took your box is down by the lake, sitting on the bench. Go down there and share these with him.” The boy protested, “But he’s a thief. Aren’t you going to punish him?” He replied, “Wait and see, just do what I ask.” So, the boy did as he was told. Half an hour later the counselor saw the two boys coming up the hill, arm in arm. The lad who had taken the box was earnestly trying to get the other boy to accept his jackknife in payment for his theft, and the victim was just as earnestly saying that a few crummy cookies weren’t that important anyway. The counselor became a peacemaker, the thief became penitent, and the victim became merciful. All three grew a little more holy and happy in the cleansing waters of these Beatitudes.

The holy waters of Jesus’ own crucifixion and death have splashed over the sides of his cross and baptized us. He bore the black soot of all our sins in the last beatitude of his own passion and death. By his wounds we are healed. In this Eucharistic sacrifice we celebrate the victory of all the saints who united their adversities with Christ’s martyrdom. Let us not be afraid of the hot waters of the Beatitudes. They keep us clean and prepare us not only for more adversity but ultimately to be clothed with the white robes of eternal glory and happiness.

Solemnity of All Saints

[Scripture Readings: Rev 7:2-4, 9-14; 1 Jn 3:1-3; Mt 5:1-12]

Yesterday at the Eucharist we read about an unknown person who asked Jesus, “Are there few in number who are to be saved?” It is a good question. Jesus does not give a yes or no answer. He is rather cryptic in his reply saying enter by the narrow gate and the firs will be last and the last first. It is an answer you have to ponder and meditate on.

The desert monks used to ask a similar question of their seniors, “What must I do to be saved”? They too were given unexpected answers like go to the village and observe how the shoemaker lives or go stay in your cell and it will teach you everything. The desert fathers were great for doing things. They might tell a disciple to go sell everything they have, but they would never say, go think about selling everything or go think about staying in your cell. In their teaching, thinking got in the way of doing and doing Scripture was their way of interpreting it.

However, the fact of the matter is we spend a great deal of time in our heads and here is where the real battle for holiness takes place. Doing the Scriptures is one way to get out of our heads and into our hearts. There are other ways. We can guard our thoughts but always we have to move from thinking to doing. It is not easy. St. Paul said he does not do the things he wants to do but the opposite, the things he does not want. He concludes that there are two laws at war with each other in his mind.

St. Anthony says there are three wills in the human being, a divine will, a human will and a demonic will. When we turn to the divine will and make it our won will we are putting on the mind of Christ. We can even say with St. Paul, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” We give up our will to be possessed by God.

I like to think of today’s feast as a commemoration of all the people who tried to do God’s will during their lifetime. After all we call this day “All” Saints“. Who are the “All“? They are the little people, the ones no one will write about or even remember for long. These are the men and women we lived with and who have gone before us making that total surrender of the self into God that we call death.

These are the men and women who during their life gave a cup of cold water in the name of Jesus, who visited the sick, who gave to the poor, who persevered in prayer, and faith and fidelity, who loved Jesus though they never saw him, who forgave, showed mercy and bore their own and others weakness of mind and behavior.

None of these things are hard to do once in a while, but to make them your life’s work is another story. It is the story of a saint. If we cannot even say Jesus is Lord without the power of the Holy Spirit how much more is it the power of the Spirit to live a full Christian life, to live a faithful monastic life?

St. Benedict tells us not to aspire to be called holy before we really are—in other words until after we die. We have all lived with saints but we could never say that while they were alive.

Today, Fr. Stephen, Br. Kevin and I are celebrating our 42nd anniversary of solemn profession. During those 42 years 37 of our brothers passed into God. They completed what they began on earth—to make God’s will their own and now God has made them his own. They are numbered among all the saints.

Solemnity of All Saints

[Scripture Readings: Rev 7:2-4,9-14; 1 John 3:1-3; Matt 5:1-12a ]

This morning at Lauds we heard an excerpt from a homily by St. Bernard for the Feast of All Saints. He begins by asking a question. “Why celebrate a feast for the saints since we can add nothing to their lives?” The saints, he says, have no need of honor from us. Why bother with this feast day? Bernard answers by saying,”…if we venerate their memory, it serves us, not them(Breviary, Office of Readings, November 1, p. 1526).

St. Augustine says the same thing explaining a passage from Deuteronomy, “The Lord tests you, to know if you love him.” God knows; we are tested so we will know.

In both instances, we are the ones being worked on. As we go through life, we are supposed to grow into a deeper awareness of who we are. If you think you know perfectly well just ask a fellow monk if he thinks the same! He will most likely fudge a little and say, “Well, yes, but you do have some blind spots.” Who we are in our estimation is difficult to answer. It is much easier to say who we are not. We are not saints. St. Bernard says this feast day is for us, not the saints. So what does this mean?

By celebrating this feast we realize more and more we are not saints. But this is rather negative. Are we kind of saints? I don’t think so—it seems to me you are either a saint or not. What is the difference between us and the saints? We are told in the second reading, a saint is someone who sees God and in this seeing becomes like God. “…We shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is(1 John 3:12).

So, this vision separates us from the saints. They see something we cannot. We are promised that someday we will share in this vision. Now is the preparation time. Jesus told us, “Blessed are the pure of heart for they shall see God(Matt 5:8). Cassian takes this beatitude and splits it into two parts which he then makes the proximate and ultimate goal of the monastic life. The proximate goal is purity of heart which we strive for now, this leads to the ultimate goal, the kingdom of God where we will see God as he is.

The Greeks called purity of heart “Hesychia” – roughly translated this means, passionlessness. In other words, our lives are not dominated by anger or lust or laziness or pride. The Hesychast has achieved a level of living where inner peace reigns in his heart. He has found the image of God in his soul and that is a type of vision, although a blurred vision leading to the beatific vision. Now is a blessed state of being. John calls it being children of God, but it is not our final state. Now we see God only in Jesus, the suffering human Jesus, not the exalted Christ. Yet we are told that this too is a blessed state. Jesus himself said, “Blessed are those who do not see, yet believe(John 20:29).

This is what makes saints. All the men and women we look up to on this feast day passed through life believing without seeing. Every one of them, the great and the small, were tested in the faith so they would know if they truly loved God. We are the ones being tested now. We are the ones who have never seen God, yet love him; who believe without seeing. On this day we honor all who have walked in darkness and now enjoy the light. The great saints each have their own special feast day. Today we recall the great throng beyond number who persevered in believing through all the trials of life. In the illnesses, the failures, the tragedies, the sufferings we all bear, they believed God was present. They could not see him through their tears but they believed.

These could be people we lived with, our parents perhaps, a fellow monk. All who have gone before us sealed with the cross of Christ on their foreheads and who now see God as he is.

Solemnity of All Saints

[Scripture Readings: Rev 7:2-4, 9-14; 1 Jn 3:1-3; Mt 5:1-12a]

Fr. Brendan“What are you going to be when you grow up?” is a common question adults ask children. Or, if they are older, say in high school or college, the question will run, what are you going to do? By time a child is a senior in college he or she has learned how to deflect the question by having a pat answer, or in rare cases a real answer, something like, “I am going to law school,” or “medical school,” or whatever. What you will never hear is, “I am going to be a saint!” If someone said that we would quickly change the subject and think, “How weird.” You just don’t set out to be a saint the way you do to be a lawyer or a doctor. Being a saint is something like being in love. You do not program either. You might desire them but you can’t make it happen by yourself. Setting out to be a saint on your own is like a cripple setting out to run the fastest mile on record, it is just not going to happen.

Becoming a saint is not something you do by yourself. It is something that is done to you. It is like an anointing. It is imposed by another. No one alive has ever said, “I am a saint”, or if they did by that very statement they would prove they are not saints.

The Angel of the Annunciation by GiottoSuppose five or six people are in a line up, could you tell the saint among them? Never. The way classical artists got around this was by painting a halo around the heads of saints. If they did not have this golden halo they would look like anyone else. Halos are like angels wings, they are meant to indicate a spiritual quality that cannot be seen. Giotto painted magnificent wings on the archangel Gabriel in his Annunciation painting. But if you ponder the painting and look at he angel it is really a strange thing — a human being with these enormous wings! But how else is a painter to indicate an angel? Wings don’t cut it anymore. How would a modern painter do it? Listen to Van Gogh. He said he wanted to, “paint men and women with that something of the eternal which the halo used to symbolize, and which we seek to convey by the actual radiance and vibration of our coloring.”1 This is a much more subtle approach and perhaps closer to the truth of the feast we are celebrating.

The Virgin Mary Today we celebrate all the saints, even the ones without halos. People we lived with but did not see the golden glow until after their death. We always knew they were good people but saints? When the Little Flower died some of her sisters wondered what in the world they were going to say about her in the circular letter to the other Carmelite convents. She was only twenty-four. What had she really accomplished? Her sanctity was hidden even from those who lived with her. It was only years later when people started reading the “Story of a Soul” that the radiance and vibrating colors of her life caught our eye.

Holiness is like seed we plant now and harvest later. St. John told us in the second reading, “My dear friends, we are already God’s children, but what we shall be in the future has not yet been revealed,” (1 Jn. 3:2). Today’s feast is a little peak into the future. It is a little glimmer of hope held out to us to encourage us not to give it all up. We know by faint only who we are. What we shall be in the future has not yet been revealed and it cannot even be imagined. But we know this, that, “we shall be like God because we shall see him as he really is”. Right now, St. Bernard reminds us, we only know God in his human face, in his suffering Son. Someday we will know him in his glory. We will know him as we are known by him. Then we too will be saints.