Feast of All Saints
Today, the Church celebrates the feast of All Saints, liturgically replacing the observance of the Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time.
Setting aside a Sunday in Ordinary Time for a feast day signals that the Church regards the feast to be highly significant, in great measure because of the lesson the feast teaches. This is the case for today’s celebration of All Saints.
The feast is ancient in Catholic history. Traces of it appeared as early as the seventh century. It became popular among believers, and since 1484 it has been a holy day of obligation.
It honors the many men and women from all walks of life, throughout the centuries, whose reputations for sanctity — often at great cost to them — earned them the Church’s formal recognition in canonization. But the feast also reminds us that many other saints, unremembered but numerous, add luster to Christian tradition. Although not canonized, they achieved eternal life. The lesson is that a reward awaits us if we are faithful.
The Book of Revelation provides the first reading. Probably no other volume in the New Testament has suffered as much from inexact and even hysterical attempts at analysis. About two centuries ago, for instance, an American Protestant preacher proclaimed wide and far that Revelation predicted the steam engine, and it would be an instrument of the devil.
Actually, the book is a marvelous testimony to the faith of its author. In vivid, enthusiastic and compelling language, quite evident in this reading, Revelation looks to that blessed day, perhaps heavenly but maybe on earth, when Christ will reign supreme. Goodness and righteousness will triumph.
Today’s reading affirms several beliefs always cherished by Christians. God is supreme. Jesus is the Son of God. Earthly death is not the end. For the holy, life continues in God’s presence. Salvation is open to anyone, regardless of nation, race or gender. Salvation comes to people through Jesus, the innocent lamb of sacrifice on Calvary, gloriously risen, reigning forever, surrounded by the angels.
The next reading is from John’s first letter. This reading also insists that salvation is available to all, and that Jesus is the Savior. Through what theologians call the incarnation, we are the Lord’s adopted brothers and sisters, heirs therefore of eternal life. Following Jesus is the key to realizing this wondrous status.
Matthew’s Gospel is the source of the final reading. The two preceding readings told us that reflecting Jesus, uncompromisingly, in our own lives connects us with the Lord and brings us the divine promise for our eternal salvation.
In this Gospel passage, we find the actual blueprint for attaining this goal of salvation in Jesus. We must be merciful, humble, righteous, thirsty for justice and clean of heart, and we must make peace with others. Some call these goals the “Ten Commandments of the New Testament.” They precisely and clearly define Christian life.
All Saints’ Day offers a powerful lesson. On this great feast day, the Church places before us that great multitude of the holy whose very lives testify to the fact that total devotion to Christ is possible. Such devotion characterized Peter, Paul, Mary Magdalene, Francis of Assisi, Theresa of Avila, Junipero Serra, Maximilian Kolbe and Katherine Drexel.
The day is much, much more than a memorial. It is a call and an encouragement. Granted, great pressures may confront us, some peculiar to our own circumstances, others from whatever is around us in the culture and the conventions of our time.
As did human beings everywhere, and always, we face temptations from the world, the flesh and the devil. Often, they are strong, but temptations can be resisted. Faith and hope will sustain us, as faith sustained the martyrs.
Revelation and First John insist that following Christ is worth any price.
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