On the feast of All Saints
By Fr Gabriel of St Mary Magdalene | 1 November 2023
Through the intercession of Your saints, O Lord, may I tread the way of holiness courageously.
Holy Mother Church, always solicitous and anxious for our salvation, exults today with exceeding joy as she contemplates the glory of her children who, having reached their heavenly fatherland, are safe for all eternity, forever delivered from the snares of the evil one, and now numbered everlastingly among the elect, the people of God. Like a mother, proud of the triumph of her children, she presents them to the whole Christian world, inviting all the faithful to share her maternal joy: “Let us all rejoice in the Lord, celebrating a feast in honour of all the saints, at whose solemnity the angels rejoice and give praise to the Son of God.” (Introit)
The epistle (Apoc 7:2–12) offers us the apocalyptic vision of the glory of the saints: “I saw a great multitude which no man could number, of all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and in the sight of the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and with palms in their hands.” Ranks of martyrs, apostles, confessors, and virgins, luminous hosts who delight unceasingly in the vision of God, adore Him continually and praise Him as they repeat: “Benediction and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honour and power and strength to our God forever and ever. Amen.”
Who are these glorious saints? Men who have lived upon earth as we have, who have known our miseries, our difficulties, our struggles. Some of them we recognise easily, for the Church has raised them to the honours of the altar, but the great majority are entirely unknown to us. They are humble people who lived obscurely in the accomplishment of duty, without display, without renown, whom no one here below remembers, but whom the heavenly Father looked upon, knew in secret, and, having proved their fidelity, called to His glory. The honourable positions occupied by some in this vast gathering, or the mighty deeds accomplished by others, no longer possess any value of themselves: eternal beatitude is not determined by the great things achieved here below. One thing only endures, for the humble and the great, the poor and the wealthy: the degree of love they had attained, to which corresponds the degree of glory which now renders them eternally happy.
While the epistle gives us a glimpse of the life of the saints in heavenly glory, the gospel (Mt 5:1–12), citing a passage from the beatitudes, unveils the life which was theirs upon earth:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit… Blessed are the meek… Blessed are they that mourn … Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice… Blessed are the merciful… Blessed are the clean of heart… Blessed are the peacemakers… Blessed are they that suffer persecution.”
Poverty, humility, detachment from earthly goods; meekness of heart, resignation and patience in sorrow, uprightness, hunger for justice; kindness and understanding toward one’s neighbour; purity of mind and heart; peacefulness of spirit and bearer of peace; fortitude and generosity, which, for love of God, embrace every suffering and endure every injustice: such are the characteristics of the life led by the saints on earth, and such must be our programme, too, if we wish to attain sanctity as they did.
We want to become saints, but in the easiest way possible, without effort, without fatigue or violence to ourselves; we should like to practice virtue, but only to a certain point, only when it does not ask for great sacrifice, or go too much against the grain. And so it happens that when faced with acts of virtue which exact greater self-renunciation, or the acceptance of difficult and repugnant things, such as quelling the resentments of self-love, renouncing an attempt to make our opinion prevail, submitting ourselves and meekly condescending to one who is opposed to us, very often — if not always — we refuse, thinking it unnecessary to go to such lengths.
Yet our progress in holiness depends precisely upon these acts which we hesitate to make; without them, we shall always lead a mediocre life, we shall always remain on the same level, if indeed we do not lose ground. Let us beg the saints whom we honour today to help us overcome our laziness, our lassitude, our cowardice; let us ask those who have gone before us in the arduous way of sanctity to obtain for us the strength to follow them.
“If such as these [have attained to sanctity], why not I?” (St. Augustine). God offers us the grace which He gave to the saints; but alas! what is lacking is our correspondence with it.
“O holy souls that now rejoice without fear of losing your joy and are forever absorbed in the praises of my God! Happy indeed, your lot! How right that you should employ yourselves ceaselessly in these praises! and how my soul envies you, free as you now are from the affliction caused by the grievous offences which in these unhappy days are committed against my God! No longer do you behold all the ingratitude of men and their blindness nor the multitude of souls being carried away by Satan.
“O blessed, heavenly souls! Help us in our misery and intercede for us with the divine Mercy, so that we may be granted some part of your joy and you may share with us some of that clear knowledge which is now yours.
“And You, O my God, make us understand what it is that You give to those who fight manfully through the dream of this miserable life. Help us, O loving souls, to understand what joy it gives you to behold the eternity of your bliss and what delight to possess the certain knowledge that it will never end.
“O blessed souls, who knew so well how to profit by the gifts of God, and to purchase with this precious ransom so delectable and enduring a heritage, tell us how you won through Him such an eternal blessing! Assist us, since you are so near the Fountainhead. Draw water for those of us on earth who are perishing with thirst.”St Teresa of Avila, Exclamations of the soul to God, 13
“O saints of heaven, I am the least of all creatures. I know my worthlessness, but I also know how noble and generous hearts love to do good. Therefore, O blessed inhabitants of the heavenly City, I entreat you to adopt me as your child. All the glory you may help me to acquire will be yours; deign, then, to hear my prayer and obtain for me … your love … “St Teresa of the Child Jesus, Story of a Soul, 13