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All Saints Day

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain, and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him. He began to teach them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn,for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,for they will inherit the land.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful,for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,
for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you
and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven” (Matthew 5:1-12a).
St. Bernard of Clairvaux, the twelfth century abbot and reformer, asked a blunt and perhaps unexpected question about the Solemnity of All Saints, which we celebrate on November 1. “Why,’’ St. Bernard said in a homily on the day of the solemnity, “should our praise and glorification, or even the celebration of this feast day mean anything to the saints? What do they care about earthly honors when their heavenly Father honors them by fulfilling the faithful promise of the Son? What does our commendation mean to them? The saints have no need of honor from us; neither does our devotion add the slightest thing to what is theirs. Clearly, if we venerate their memory, it serves us, not them.’’

How does it serve us to venerate the memory of the saints—those formally recognized by the Church and those whose names we do not know?

St. Bernard answered that by saying that when he thought of the saints, he felt “inflamed by a tremendous yearning. … to enjoy their company” (Disc. 2, Opera Omnia Cisterc. 5, 364ff).

So, as Pope Benedict XVI has pointed out, the meaning of All Saints Day is that we do not simply honor the saints in a passive way but look at their example and apply it to ourselves. It’s an especially fitting idea as we observe this Year of Faith. We contemplate the lives of those who are “blessed” because they lived by the faith, lived in keeping with the Gospel and, in particular, the Beatitudes, the call to humility, simplicity, mercy, charity, and faithfulness. And, the pope said, their example reawakens in us “the great longing to be like them: happy to live near God, in his light, in the great family of God’s friends’’ (Pope Benedict XVI, Homily at Holy Mass on the Solemnity of All Saints, November 1, 2006).

In other words, when we pause to consider the lives of the saints, it inspires us to long for holiness in our own lives, and the path to holiness, Pope Benedict said, “always passes through the Way of the Cross.’’ St. Bernard, again coming right to the point, addressed this with his contemporaries: “The saints want us to be with them, and we are indifferent. The souls of the just await us, and we ignore them. Come … let us at length spur ourselves on. We must rise again with Christ; we must seek the world that is above and set our mind on the things of heaven.’’

This does not come as a surprise to us; Jesus told us those who want to follow him must deny themselves and take up the cross, meaning that they must imitate him and live in keeping with his Gospel day to day, at home, at school, at work, in the community. They bend their will to his, they honor and glorify him, and they live as he did by making the needs and cares of others as important as their own.

To the extent that we set out each day, each one in his or her own circumstances, to follow Jesus, Pope Benedict said, “we too can participate in his blessedness. With him, the impossible becomes possible, and even a camel can pass through the eye of a needle’’ (cf. Mt. 5:48).

Adapted from PrayerTime: Faith-Sharing Reflections on the Sunday Gospels, available from the RENEW International online store.

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