“I see the holiness of the Church militant. Very often it a holiness found in.. those who, living in our midst, reflect God’s presence. We might call them ‘the middle class of holiness’.”
– Pope Francis, ‘Gaudete Et Exsultate’
Celebrating All Saints Day, we might be tempted to think only of those whose names the Church places before us – the canonised Saints and the beatified Blesseds. And while this is good, we would be missing so much more.
Today’s feast is really about a different group, people who will never be remembered on any feast day except this one; for this is the feast of all those unnamed persons who have entered the joy of Heaven and upon whose intercession we now rely – and who are the un-canonised and ‘everday saints’.
In his extraordinarily beautiful Apostolic Exhortation ‘Gaudete Et Exsultate’, our Holy Father Pope Francis reminds us of these everyday saints who are all around us; they live next door, they live in our own homes; they are our relatives, our friends, our neighbours and those who have had a role in our lives. Pope Francis reminds us of something written by Edith Stein, better known as Saint Teresia Benedicta of the Cross. She wrote –
“The greatest figures of prophecy and sanctity step forth out of the darkest night. But for the most part, the formative stream of the mystical life remain invisible. Certainly, the most decisive turning points in history are substantially determined by souls whom no history book ever mentions.”
Pope Francis tells us that “holiness is the most attractive face of the Church” and reminds us that all of us are called to holiness – “each in his or her own way”, he says, quoting the Second Vatican Council. And so he appeals to us – “let the grace of your Baptism bear fruit in a path of holiness”.
When we think about these words of the Holy Father, it may occur to us that he is actually describing many people who have figured in our own lives – parents, relatives, neighbours, teachers and so forth. These are the ones who have put into practice what the Pope described above. It is for this reason that they are now enjoying the glory of Heaven – and it is these who we celebrate today on this feast of All Saints.
If we remember these good souls, it is perhaps because the Holy Father was right – holiness is indeed the most attractive face of our Church. There is something intangible but very real about souls such as this – it is as though their souls speak to ours, with “sighs too deeep for words” (cf. Rom.8:26) as St Paul describes it. But those wordless sighs do touch us and they achieve something within us. Years later, we will remember the effect such a soul had upon us even decades before through their example, a tender gesture, or a kind word. Something about their goodness lives on.
Today, we remember and we celebrate souls such as these, and we give thanks for them.
But if we stop there, we risk having missed the point.
And the point is this – that we learn the example they have placed before us and that we are changed and made better by it. And, God willing, perhaps one day we, too, will leave such an example, and have such an effect, upon a soul who will come after us. And in this way, through the grace and mercy of God, that we also enjoy the Beatific Vision in Heaven for all eternity.
May all the Saints of Heaven, those we know and those known only to the Lord, pray for us. And may Our Blessed Lady, the Queen of All Saints, pray for us.