Last Sunday, our holy Mother Church put before our eyes Christ Jesus our Sovereign King, reminding us that even now He must reign in our hearts, in our families, in our societies. Today, Mother Church turns our eyes to the eternal kingdom where Christ Jesus is already enthroned in glory, and to which kingdom we make our way through this land of exile. In the light of this eternal kingdom, the land of our exile appears at it truly is, a valley of tears, in which even our joys and consolations are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come.
The feast of All Saints reminds us of those friends of God who are now in glory. Like us, they walked this earth, they faced numerous obstacles. Like us they had their falls, their hesitations, their persecutions. But all that is henceforth forever behind them.
Many of them are known to us through what we can read about them in history. Each of us has favourite saints to look up to, to admire, to imitate, to implore their intercession. But the canonised saints are undoubtedly only a small portion of that elect troop of saints. St John speaks of an immense crowd that no one could number. We can hope that among them there are some we have known, loved ones, parents, friends.
St Paul on his side refers to the saints as a cloud of witnesses. Why, we might ask, are the saints called a “cloud of witnesses”. First of all, they are witnesses because, due to the holiness of their lives, they bear witness to the truth. “Let your light shine before men”, says Our Lord, “that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Mt 5:16). In word and in deed, God is glorified in those who bear witness to Him in this way.
But why a cloud? St Thomas points out that there are three reasons for this. First of all, since the clouds are over us, the saints are a cloud due to the sublime manner of their lives. We look up to their examples and strive to imitate them. Secondly, just as clouds drop down water upon the earth, so the saints distill the fecundity of their doctrine. Their teachings are infused into our minds and hearts as drops of rain onto parched soil, giving them to produce fruit that will last. Thirdly, just as clouds bring refreshment from the heat of the sun, so do the saints refresh us with their spiritual consolations.
We can consider also that this great crowd of saints accompanies us in our struggles, cheering us on by their examples to take the path they took. And what is that path? It is the path shown us by the Lord, the path of the beatitudes. Poverty of spirit, that is to say, detachment from all created things, purity of heart, seeking peace and following after it, hungering and thirsting for God, for holiness, meek perseverance amidst persecutions and criticisms: such are the ways in which we prove ourselves disciples of our Lord, who as we are told, “having joy set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and now sitteth on the right hand of the throne of God. For think diligently upon him that endured such opposition from sinners against himself that you be not wearied, fainting in your minds. For you have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin” (Heb 12:2-4). The same Epistle to the Hebrews tells us that among the saints of old some “were racked.. others had trial of mockeries and stripes: moreover also of bands and prisons. They were stoned, they were cut asunder, they were tempted, they were put to death by the sword, they wandered about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being in want, distressed, afflicted: ff whom the world was not worthy: wandering in deserts, in mountains and in dens and in caves of the earth” (Heb 11:33-38). The world was not worthy of them. And now they are that great cloud of witnesses over our head, encouraging us to lay aside every burden of sin which surrounds us, and run by patience to the fight proposed to us. And so this feast prods us on and gives us immense confidence that in the end all will be well.
But this day is also the first day of November, month dedicated to the Poor Souls in Purgatory. Let us have at heart to pray for our faithful departed, to have Masses offered for them. The purity required to see God face to face is such that few souls are ready at the moment of death. Purgatory is God’s merciful, allowing them the chance to be purified and thus made worthy of the beatific vision. Our prayers and penance help them and bring closer that longed-for moment of entrance into the presence of the Most Holy Trinity. Let us avail ourselves in particular of the opportunity of gaining the plenary indulgence offered each day of this week, by visiting a cemetery and praying for the poor souls.