All Saints’ Day, November 1st, is one of my favorite holy days. The lives of the saints exemplify the beauty of holiness. They are examples for us of Christian discipleship and the pursuit of holiness. They are truly “icons” of Jesus who can inspire us in our lives of faith, teaching us how to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. They are our brothers and sisters in heaven who, on earth, lived lives of exemplary fidelity to the Lord.
At Mass on All Saints’ Day, we hear the reading from the Book of Revelation about the great multitude… from every nation, race, people and tongue who stand before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands, worshipping God. Saint John’s vision of the communion of saints in heaven reminds us of the perfect life with the Most Holy Trinity which is our ultimate fulfillment and definitive happiness.
At Mass on All Saints’ Day, we also hear the Gospel of the Beatitudes. The sixth Beatitude is: Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. This is our ultimate end and vocation: to see God. We all have this desire in our hearts. Through the purification of our hearts, we can contemplate (“see”) God even now, though only partially. We can experience the beauty of God in our lives of faith as we grow in holiness by the transforming power of God’s grace.
The thought of heaven helps us to live better our lives in this world. We know that we will pass from this world and, thus, we are called to seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God (Colossians 3:1). Reflecting on the joy of the saints in heaven inspires us in our pilgrimage on earth.
One of the great teachings of the Second Vatican Council was “the universal call to holiness.” The Council recalled that all the faithful of Christ, of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity (Lumen Gentium 40). Blessed John Paul II, commenting on this passage, said:
Concretely, the way for the faithful to become saints is that of fidelity to God’s will, as it is expressed to us in his word, the commandments and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. As it was for the saints, so too for us, the perfection of charity consists in trusting abandonment into the Father’s hands, following Jesus’ example.
The call to holiness is addressed to all of us, whatever our state in life. The canonized saints of the Church include men, women, and children of all ages and states in life. Just as I will look to the lives of bishops who were saints as examples for my life, so it is good for you to look to the lives of saints who lived your state in life (e.g. married, single, religious, priest).
God’s words to Moses and the Israelites are addressed to us all: Be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy (Leviticus 19:1-2). God called Israel to be a holy nation. The Church, the new Israel, is a “communion of saints.” We are to be a communion in holiness. Jesus taught us: Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48). Jesus is calling us to be holy, to reflect His Father’s love.
Such holiness may seem to be an impossible ideal. The perfection of charity to which Jesus calls us may seem beyond our capacity. But the gift of the Holy Spirit, received through faith and the sacraments, makes it possible. Jesus summons us to a holy way of life. The saints show that it is possible to live this way of life on earth. The French writer Leon Bloy said: The only real sadness in life is not becoming a saint.
We profess in the Creed that “the Church is holy.” This is because the Church’s Head, Jesus, is holy, and because the Church is endowed with the gift of the Holy Spirit. We are sanctified by Christ. It is only by the grace of God that we can acquire holiness. We know that on earth, we do not acquire perfect holiness. As the Second Vatican Council taught: the Church is at once holy and always in need of purification. So we must acknowledge that we are sinners on the way to holiness. We strive to conquer sin and to grow in holiness.
Pope Francis recently explained that it is a heresy to say that the Church is only the Church of the pure. “The Church, that is holy, does not reject sinners.” The Holy Father said that the Church is a home for all to be renewed, transformed, and sanctified by God’s love. He said:
The Church offers all the possibility of following a path of holiness, that is the path of the Christian: she brings us to encounter Jesus Christ in the Sacraments, especially in Confession and in the Eucharist; she communicates the Word of God to us, she lets us live in charity, in the love of God for all.
The Catechism teaches the following:
By canonizing some of the faithful, i.e., by solemnly proclaiming that they practiced heroic virtue and lived in fidelity to God’s grace, the Church recognizes the power of the Spirit of holiness within her and sustains the hope of believers by proposing the saints to them as models and intercessors. The saints have always been the source and origin of renewal in the most difficult moments in the Church’s history. Indeed, holiness is the hidden source and infallible measure of her apostolic activity and missionary zeal (CCC 828).
When we read the lives of the saints, we learn that the way of holiness passes by way of the Cross. It involves repentance, fighting temptation, and openness to God’s grace. The sacrament of Penance is an essential part of this journey to holiness. And, of course, the Holy Eucharist strengthens us in charity and increases the life of grace we received at Baptism. It was the food that nourished the souls of the saints and that fills us with every grace and heavenly blessing (Roman Canon). The Eucharist brings us into ever more intimate union with Christ.
The key to the success of the new evangelization is not any program, project, or activity. The key is holiness. People are drawn to the faith and to God by the witness of holy Christians. The truth of the Gospel attracts others through the witness of the saints, the witness of those who live good and holy lives. The Second Vatican Council taught that the witness of a Christian life and good works done in a supernatural spirit have great power to draw people to the faith and to God.
The beauty of holiness radiated from the lives of the saints. They are our guides in the spiritual life. May they intercede for us and for all the Church on earth!