All Saints' (1st Nov 2020)

posted 2 Nov 2020, 03:57 by Parish Office

Homily for All Saints’ Day 2020

Take the following phrase: “Queen Elizabeth was born on 21st April 1926”. What’s wrong with that phrase? Queen Elizabeth wasn’t queen when she was born. She began life as Elizabeth Windsor. Or take the following phrase: “St Paul began his life as a persecutor of Christians”. What’s wrong with that? Well, he didn’t begin his life as a saint. “St Paul began his life as Saul, and in his younger years was a persecutor of Christians.” Is this all just nit-picking? We know what it means, so why be pedantic? The point I’m making is that saints are not born, they are made. There are certain people that God raised up to do great and amazing things, to alter world history. But everyone here is called to be a saint. As I’ve said on previous occasions, if we don’t become saints by the time we die, then there’s purgatory to finish off the job.

We sometimes hear of people who are described as “living saints”. Pope John Paul II was one such famous example. But he wasn’t perfect from day one. It’s said that he went to confession once a week. They say that saints are sinners who know their need for God. That was certainly true in St John Paul II’s case. But we find the same thing in today’s first reading. We are presented with a scene with “a huge number, impossible to count” of people who have been martyred for their faith in Christ. But note carefully: the fact that they gave their lives didn’t mean that they earned their way into heaven. They got into heaven because of the sacrifice of Christ: “These are the people who have been through the great persecution and they have washed their robes white again in the blood of the Lamb”. The holiness of their lives and their final act of witness were only possible because Christ gave them the grace to do that. Their salvation in heaven was only possible because Christ died for them so their sins could be forgiven. They didn’t earn their way into heaven and get their by their own efforts. They were not their own saviour. Like the rest of us, they were born with Original Sin, which was washed away in baptism, and with God’s grace they progressed in virtue and saintliness. It wasn’t an easy road – but you bet it was worth it for the reward at the end of it. Some of those who died as saints were big sinners in their earlier life. As St John Vianney said, “The saints did not all begin will, but they all ended well”. It means there’s hope for us all.

Now the saints are all in heaven, they don’t forget us, leave us alone and just spend their time enjoying themselves. Would that be selfish? They’re part

of the Church. Sometimes they’re referred to as the Church Victorious, whilst those in Purgatory are the Church Suffering, and we on earth are the Church Militant. We are at war against the various attacks and deceits of the evil spirits, with the saints praying for us, and if you like, cheering us on. Fr Ronald Knox once said that he imagined it as being a bit like a football match, but of course the saints don’t using swear words when foul play is detected. When a saint dies and goes to heaven, it can seem like a loss. But when St Dominic was dying, he said to his fellow Dominicans:

“Do not weep, for I shall be more useful to you after my death and I shall help you then more effectively than during my life”.

St Therese of Lisieux said, “I want to spend my heaven in doing good on earth”. (Both quoted in CCC 956.)

The fact that the saints do pray for us is shown by people who have their prayers answered. Just think of the shrine at Lourdes: if you look in old black and white photos of the shrine, you will see various walking sticks, crutches and so on hanging up there, as testimony to the healing different people received by praying to Our Lady at the shrine. The same can be said of the shrines of other saints, such as that of St James at Santiago de Compostela.

So today, we celebrate the glory of the saints, people who once were like us on earth, people who were born just the same as you and I, but with the grace of God, became saints whilst on earth. Their witness shows it’s possible for us – and their prayers help us on the way to heaven.