Solemnity of All Saints
Solemnity of All Saints, BAV Vat. sir. 559, f. 93v

Solemnity of All Saints

Already by the end of the 2nd century, there is evidence that the saints were already being venerated. First, the holy martyrs, who were soon joined by the apostles, the official witnesses of the faith. After the great persecutions under Imperial Rome, other men and women who had lived heroic Christian lives gradually became the object of veneration as well. The first non-martyr to be venerated as a saint was Martin of Tours. Toward the end of the year 1000, due to the uncontrolled development of “saint making” and the “purchase” of relics, a process for canonization was developed which required evidence of miracles. The Solemnity of All Saints began in the East in the 4th century, and then spread elsewhere, being observed on different dates: on 13 May in Rome, on 1 November in England and Ireland beginning in the 8th century. It was the latter date that was adopted in Rome as well, beginning in the 9th century. The solemnity falls toward the end of the liturgical year, when the Church fixes its gaze on the last things. It is, therefore, fitting that the thought of those who have already crossed over the gates of Heaven should find a place in their hearts.

From the Gospel according to Matthew:

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain, and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him. He began to teach them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the land.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the clean of heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,
for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven”. (Mt 5:1-12)

The Saints

Holy men and women – true friends of God – to whom the Church today invites us to turn our gaze, are men and women who were fascinated by this proposal, who decided to trod the path of the Beatitudes. They did this not because they were better than us, but simply because they “knew” that we are all children of God and they experienced precisely this. They knew they were “sinners who had been forgiven”: these are the Saints. They learned to know themselves and to direct their efforts toward God, toward themselves and toward others, knowing in their weakness how to trust in the divine Mercy.
Today they encourage us to aim high, to look in the distance toward the goal and the prize that awaits us. They invite us not to resign ourselves before the difficulties we face each day because life will not only come to an end, but it also presents us with a goal – eternal union with God. Through this feast, the Church shows us the saints who are at our sides, friends of God and models of a blessed life who intercede for us, who encourage us to live this last part of the liturgical year with greater intensity.

Eight paths

This path is actually made up of eight paths traced out by Jesus which are mapped out in the Gospel: the Beatitudes. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven…”. The emphasis is not such much on “Blessed”, as on the “for”. Someone is not “blessed” because they are “poor”, but they are blessed because since they are poor, they are in the privileged condition of receiving the kingdom of heaven. The same is valid for the other seven conditions. “Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted”; “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land”; “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied”: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy;” “Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God”; “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God”; “Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven”; “Blessed are you when they insult you ... Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven”. It is this “for” that explains everything, that reveals where the meek will find trust, where peacemakers will find joy… “Blessed” is, therefore, not understood as a simple emotion, even though this is important, but as the hope to spurs us to get back on our feet and not let life get us down, not to give up, to keep on going…because God is with us. In us.

The point, therefore, is to see God, to be on His side, to become an object of His attention, to contemplate God not sometime in the future in heaven, but right now, today. We are invited to trod these eight paths so that we can already participate in the joy described in the Book of Revelation. All of us can take these paths: “See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. Yet so we are. We are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed” (cf. 1 John 3:1-3). With the refrain of the Responsorial Psalm, we can say: “Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face”. And not because we are more or less good, but because God himself loves us.

What about me?

In these “Eight Words”, that are known as the Beatitudes, Jesus extends this invitation to you and me: “Are you interested in the kingdom of heaven? Are you interested in a higher objective in life?” Certainly, the world takes another path: it invites us to feel happiness through an economically secure, comfortable life rather than one that is “poor in spirit”. It invites us to enjoy ourselves in any way and by any means possible, rather than saying, “blessed are those who mourn”. It invites us to prevail over others rather than be meek. It invites us to satisfy our hunger with everything, without ands, ifs or buts, rather than being satisfied with peace and justice. It invites us to think of ourselves rather than being merciful. It invites us to go where our hearts takes us, satisfying every passion, rather than being pure of heart. It invites us to defend our own turf rather than become peacemakers. It invites us to dominate and persecute rather than let ourselves be insulted!
The Beatitudes can really appear to be absurd, and yet they are the Eight Paths for a beautiful, blessed, happy life…a successful life. Or, if you will, a holy life. It’s not about words, it’s not about ideas…because if we observe well, the Beatitudes present us with a photograph of Jesus Himself: poor, meek, merciful, the one who surrenders…moved only by the desire “to be about his Father’s business” (cf. Lk. 2:41-50).

As stated above, the emphasis is not on the word “blessed”, but on the “for”: beatitude, happiness derives from having a sense of one’s own life, of having a sense of direction, a reason for living that would even be worth losing one’s life over: “Didn’t you know that I had to be about my Father’s business?”, “…for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”. Joy, beatitude, therefore, do not come from external conditions, be it wellbeing, pleasure, success – experiences both fragile and fleeting (cf. Mt. 7:24-28), but from the happiness promised by God to those who choose to behave in certain ways and manifest it in their daily lives.

Saints next door

Today’s solemnity demonstrates that a “blessed”, “beautiful”, “successful”, “holy” life … is possible. It was possible yesterday and it is possible today – for everyone. It is possible for us too. We can become those “saints next door” of whom Pope Francis speaks about – that is, men and women who are reconciled with themselves, with others and with God, who are able to shine the light of God’s merciful Love within the ebb and flow of everyday life. In their families, at work, during their free time…they know how to live like Jesus, trusting that the “Eight Paths” are secure. Through our Baptism, we are already All Saints, but we don’t know it! Too often we are not even aware of this possibility that Baptism has placed in our hands: and yet it is so – because this is the way Jesus wants it!

A story

While visiting a church in Turin, a school child asked his teacher about some of the stained glass windows. “They are pictures of some of the saints”, the teacher responded. “They had a special and strong friendship with Jesus”. A few days later, on the Feast of All Saints, a priest asked the children if they knew how to explain who the saints were and what types of things they had done. The boy who had asked the question rose his hands and confidently replied: “The saints are people who let the Light pass through them”.

01 November
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