Any time the feast day of a saint coincides with a Sunday, I always feel a bit sorry that he or she is missing out on some well-deserved recognition, since the Lord’s day takes precedence in the liturgical calendar. My sympathy is silly, of course: the saints by definition lived out the very meaning of Sunday, and they’re more concerned with seeing us do the same than they are with drawing any attention to themselves.
So with that in mind, I’m actually quite delighted that this year’s Solemnity of All Saints falls on a Sunday — because if ever we needed saints around the table of the Lord, it’s now.
Our world is desperate for holy women and men who can love it back to life by channeling God’s redemptive grace to all. When plagues ravage, when mobs rage, when leaders founder and crops fail — that’s when saints arise, made bold by a Spirit that swallowed up death itself.
As Philadelphia Auxiliary Bishop John McIntyre said in a recent homily, saints “put flesh on the faith.” Scripture and sacrament seep into the bloodstream of society through the words, deeds and prayerful presence of those for whom Christ is all in all.
Mystic or warrior, scholar or laborer, a saint embodies eternal realities and gives them hands and feet. Acclaimed or, more often, accursed by their contemporaries, they “have always been the source and origin of renewal in the most difficult circumstances in the church’s history” (Christifideles Laici, 16).
While some have demonstrated sanctity from an early age, many saints have struggled (in some cases, for years) not only with mortal sins — such as St. Paul’s murderous pre-conversion wrath — but with the same flaws and foibles that trip us up daily: bad tempers, penchants for pleasures, vanity, doubts and discouragement. Their battles have been fierce; St. Ignatius of Loyola was once so tortured by scruples and anxiety that he even contemplated suicide. Restrained and restored by grace, he went on to become one of the most insightful tour guides of the interior life, gratefully consulted by millions to this day.
Although our society increasingly demands advanced degrees, certifications and continuing education credits, holiness is not a professional undertaking reserved for the talented and qualified. Rather, “all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of charity” (Lumen Gentium, 40).
As St. John Paul II reminds us, “the call to holiness is rooted in Baptism and proposed anew in the other sacraments, principally in the Eucharist. Since Christians are reclothed in Christ Jesus and refreshed by his Spirit, they are ‘holy’” (Christifideles Laici, 16).
In a sense, the church is the trade union of holy laborers for Christ, and our shop is a broken world longing for healing. As we celebrate the Solemnity of All Saints, let’s take a moment to check our union cards. Have you been baptized? You’re in.
Now, while there is yet light, let’s get to work.
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