1 November 2020
1 John 3:1-3
The early Church suffered many periods of great persecution. So many were killed for their faith in Christ – martyred – that it was impossible to commemorate each one individually. Eventually, when the Church was given an old Roman Temple dedicated to “all the gods”, the Pantheon became a place to honour “All the Saints” and today’s feast was born.
The entire collection of Roman gods was called the ‘Pantheon’ and in ancient times, you could worship any of the gods whose statues were located in the niches of the building. The Pantheon was converted into a Catholic Church in 609 AD and dedicated to Our Lady and all the Martyrs.
On this feast of All Saints, we honour in a special way all the holy men and women who in their day-to-day lives have been challenged by the Gospel and have lived it generously, some even to the point of dying for it.
Our first reading gives us a vision of the faithful followers of Christ rejoicing in his presence in the heavenly kingdom.
St John, in the second reading, invites us to be attentive to the fact that even in this life we are really and truly children of God. As Christian believers, we belong to God because we have been adopted in Christ. We are God’s children and in case there should be any doubt about it, John adds: ‘and this is what we are.’ We have been born to a new life and share, mysteriously but really, in the life of God. Therefore, we can be sure that each one of us is loved by the Father.
If the unbelieving world does not recognise the true status of Christians, it is because the world doesn’t recognise God either. John means that the world has failed to recognise Jesus.
We have to await the coming of the Lord, to see him ‘as he is’ before we can fully appreciate our own identity, our own Christian reality – and only then, will we see clearly that our future state will be like the glorified state of Jesus.
Moreover, our present relationship with God is only the beginning. Being children of God is a source of hope, but it also demands a response from us. Meanwhile, we must be close to God in prayer, show the qualities of God in our actions – his generosity, forgiveness and openness – and live as witnesses to the love of Christ.
There are three questions we could ask ourselves in the light of what St John writes:
- In the presence of Christ, our eyes will be opened, and we shall then truly understand what God has worked in us. What are the elements you look forward to in heaven?
- Who are the saints who have played a part in your life? In what ways does my sainthood manifest itself?
- How are we supposed to behave as we wait to meet Christ ‘as he really is’? We will be told that in the Beatitudes!
And so we come to St Matthew’s Gospel where he gives us the teaching of Jesus, the ‘Be-attitudes’ of a Christian. They are the qualities that are to mark the followers of Jesus. They are a summary of the teaching of Jesus. Many have recognised in them a portrait of Jesus himself.
Jesus is laying out a set of values that would be foundational to the kingdom he came to establish, on earth as it is in heaven. The important be-attitudes are poverty of spirit, gentleness, forgiveness, a hunger for justice, a passion for peace, a readiness to suffer in his name. These are very much at variance with pagan or worldly values such as pride, vindictiveness, belligerence, aggrandisement and war.
But more than enunciating a set of values, Jesus is describing (1) the stuff of which saints are made, (2) the characteristics of those who desire to participate in the life that Jesus would live and for which he would die and (3) the kind of people who would be citizens of his kingdom.
Today we rejoice in all the saints of the Church, all the saints in our lives and what is saintly in each of us. We thank God for all the holy women and men who gone before us and those still among us today, who have enriched the Church and the world with their quiet witness to the Gospel, people whose lives are unheralded and whose names are unknown. And if you feel thanked in the process, don’t feel confused!!
Today’s feast includes all the saints who were never canonised: mothers and fathers who stayed faithful to one another and their families; single men and women who did good ‘unseen’; those who found God through the pain they endured; all those who never thought of themselves as holy but whose goodness was clear to those to them. Do I belong there?
We belong to a community that has a history of goodness and fidelity to the Gospel. We are related to those who went before us, those who linked their belief to those who went before them. We are part of a chain of holiness. We belong to the sanctified brethren.
Finally, this feast reminds us that, to the extent that the life of Christ is still with us, we are all saints!! The only question is the extent to which we try to live a godly life as God’s children.
Think of those who have been through it before you,
and just tell yourself:
‘They did it, so it can be done again.’
This reflection for the Feast of All Saints is taken from a much longer piece written by Sr Philomena McGuinness SSL where she shares some thoughts on the Feast of All Saints and the readings chosen for the Mass of that day. Click here to read the full reflection. Thank you Sr Phil.
For a Homily by Fr Tom Casey SMA for the Feast of All Saints click on the play icon below.