Solemnity of All Saints
November 1, 2013
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Penafort Catholic Church
Since the first century the Church has celebrated
the anniversaries of the deaths, of great and heroic Christians,
especially the martyrs who had laid down their lives
rather than deny their faith in Jesus Christ.
But by the 3rd century the persecutions and martyrdoms were so numerous
they started to take one day a year as the day to remember all the martyrs
—“All Martyrs Day.”
Of course, in the 4th century there was a radical change in the Church,
as the bloody martyrdoms dramatically declined,
and the great saints were those known more for their great holiness
than for their suffering.
So gradually, at least by the 8th century, the feast of “All Martyrs”
had become known as “All Saints.”
And eventually the feast came to also include
all those saints who are in heaven, whether known to us or not.
Now, “saint” is an interesting word.
While we normally think of “saints” as the souls in heaven
who are officially called “saints” by the church,
in reality the Church uses the word “saint”
in at least 3 different ways.
The first is to refer to as “canonized.”
The word “canon” just means “list,” so canonized saints are those
who are on the official list of saints
—people the Church has deemed to be so clearly holy or heroic
that we are sure they’re in heaven
and that they should be held up to the whole Church
as heroes to be imitated.
These are the ones we call “Saint” before their proper names:
like St. Peter, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Mary Magdalene, St. Thomas More,
or St. Mary.
The second use of the term “saint” means all the souls in heaven,
including the ones we don’t know about for sure.
For example, my mom died almost 11 years ago;
she was the kindest, holiest, most devout Catholic you’d ever meet,
and almost everyone who knew her thinks she must be in heaven.
But we don’t know, and the Church hasn’t, and won’t, canonize her.
So, if she’s in heaven, she is a saint and today is her feast,
but we don’t go around calling her “St. Barbara of Texas.”
And the third way we use the term “saint” is the way Scripture often does:
to simply refer all those who have been baptized and love the Lord Jesus,
in other words, all faithful Christians.
That’s because the words saint, or “sanctus,” and “holy”
originally meant “set apart”,
and the baptized are considered as set apart from the rest of the world
—in the world but not of the world,
set apart and united to the one
who is truly set apart from everything—God himself.
So that the word “saint,” in the broadest terms,
means all people united to Christ through baptism and love,
whether they’re alive on earth, alive in heaven,
OR alive in Purgatory.
Yes, there is a Purgatory, and many souls are there.
They are often called the Holy Souls, because though imperfect on earth,
they still loved the Lord
and did not reject him on earth by unrepented mortal sin on earth.
Because of that Our Lord will not deny them heaven,
but will mercifully purify them from their imperfections and sins
so that they may enter the perfection of heaven,
to share in the perfect unity and love of God.
So there are, in some sense, saints in heaven, in purgatory and on earth,
and all these saints are united to each other in Christ.
We call this the “Communion of Saints”,
Now, this communion is a personal relationship of love, in Christ.
On earth we live this out by caring for one another,
by being kind and helping one another,
and most of all praying for one another.
Have you ever wondered why you pray for other people?
Do you really think God doesn’t know that your son is in trouble at school,
or you’re mother is sick
—that God needs you to tell him about it?
No, praying for people is simply an act of love
—you want to help them and the best way to do that
is to get God involved, because
“what is impossible for man is not impossible for God.”
And God wants us to love each other, so he wants us to pray for each other.
And that loving doesn’t stop when people die.
When my mother died, she didn’t stop loving me
—and she didn’t stop praying for me.
And just like if you might tend to ask someone you know
who is very close to God to pray for you,
the folks in heaven are holier and closer to God
than anyone on earth could ever be.
So we go to the saints in heaven, we pray to them,
and ask them to help us, to pray for us.
But we don’t just pray to the souls in heaven,
we also pray for the souls in purgatory.
Because purgatory is a place of changing from imperfect to perfect.
And like all change, the change of purgatory is difficult, even painful.
And although the pain of Purgatory is not filled with anguish and despair,
but with the joy of certitude knowing that they are going heaven,
even so, pain is pain.
And because we love them we must pray for them, to help them,
to ask God to help them.
So we pray to the saints in heaven and for the saints in purgatory,
and in turn they pray for us.
But we also pray for each other, here on earth.
Because the communion of saints is supposed to begin here on earth.
As Christ prayed for us at the Last supper:
“that they may be one, Father, as in you and you in me.”
He intended one communion—one church—on earth.
Unfortunately, that communion here on earth is splintered, divided against itself,
as too many follow Christian communities
that long ago rejected unity with the shepherd
who Christ commanded to tend and feed his sheep on earth,
St. Peter and his successors, the popes.
These divisions largely originated in 1054
when so many of the Eastern Christians split off
into what is today called the Orthodox Church.
That division was widened in 1517 when MARTIN LUTHER
began what has mistakenly called the Protestant “Reformation.”
These divisions, were not intended by Christ and are contrary to his manifest will,
And so we pray that all Christians return to the fullness of communion with Christ
here on earth in Catholic Church.
And you know, in some ways we see a chance
for moving toward this full communion
coming from an unusual and unexpected quarter,
as once again, as in the days of the early centuries,
Christians—Catholic or separated—
are being united in being persecuted for the faith.
Our persecutors don’t usually ask, “are you Catholic or Protestant or Orthodox/”
but simply, “are you Christian?”
In some places like Egypt, Syria, Pakistan and Iran,
not to mention China, Sudan, and Kenya,
that persecution is turning bloody—very bloody.
And so we must unite our prayers to these suffering saints
and pray for them and with them
in heartfelt charity, remembering we are all one in Christ,
and that when one part of the body suffers we all suffer.
But there is also persecution even here in America.
Not bloody persecution,
but an unrelenting harassment for us to break communion
with Christ and his Church.
This happens all over the place: at work, in schools and even at home.
We see this, for example,
in the assaults on our faith through government regulations.
But this time of year I think particularly of Christian politicians,
especially Catholic politicians,
who are maligned by the media and their opponents,
and called bigots and haters just for sticking to
their Catholic or traditional Christian teachings
in opposition to things like abortion and homosexual acts,
and the dignity of marriage and sexuality.
A truly faithful Catholic or Christian politician today is indeed a martyr.
We need to pray for these men and women especially, even as we admire them.
My friends, Jesus Christ came into the world
to bring all mankind into Communion with Him,
and through Him with one another.
That Communion is perfected in the joys of eternal life
of All the Saints in heaven.
And that Communion is purified of all it’s sins and weaknesses in Purgatory.
But that Communion has already begun here on earth,
as those who are baptized follow him in everything he commanded,
as taught to us by St. Peter and the apostles
and their successors to this day.
As we now enter more deeply into this Holy Mass,
in communion with each other and all the saints
let us turn to the Lord,
as he descends to this altar in sacrament of Communion:
and we fall down in worship before the one true God,
the lamb who was slain.
Let us pray to All the Saints of heaven,
and for all the Holy Souls in purgatory.
And may they all pray for all of us who still struggling to be saints on earth,
so as to one day join them in the perfect happiness and glory of heaven.