the Solemnity of All SaintsNov. 1, 2015
Iona College, New Rochelle
Provincial House, New Rochelle
“Today by your gift we celebrate the festival of your city, the heavenly Jerusalem, our mother, where the great array of our brothers and sisters already gives you eternal praise” (Preface).
|The forerunners of Christ with saints and martyrs (ca. 1424)|
God’s gift: our salvation is a gift, a grace from God. We never deserve his pardon; we have no title to heaven. God freely and lovingly grants it to us thru Jesus Christ. St. Paul writes to the Romans, “All are now undeservedly justified by the gift of God, thru the redemption wrought in Christ Jesus” (3:24). Those who accept his gift he transforms into saints—the great ones whom everyone knows and admires like Mary, Peter and Paul, Francis, the Little Flower, and so on; and the innumerable, anonymous ones we’ve never heard of and never will—except the ones in our own lives. We might think of our parents or some of our confreres in religion who were close to God, who reflected God’s love to us and who, we trust, now enjoy an intimate relationship with him in eternity.
These holy ones constitute God’s city, “the heavenly Jerusalem, our mother.” The earthly city Jerusalem was God’s dwelling place, his holy city, the site of his temple, the center of the world. It was the city where our redemption was effected by Jesus and the mother Church of Christendom, whence the apostles set out to preach the Good News. It became in the Revelation of John the symbol of heaven, where God dwells on high with all his people around him, “the great array” of the saints. So today we refer to the saints as “the heavenly Jerusalem,” not a city of bricks and mortar, of streets and marketplaces, but a city of “living stones” (to quote 1 Pet 2:5), i.e., Jerusalem’s population, God’s holy people.
This heavenly Jerusalem is called our mother because it gives birth to us. The saints in heaven with Christ as their head, bonded into a union by the Holy Spirit, is bonded also to the Church on earth, and the whole Church bears new children in the font of Baptism, introduces neophytes to the divine life of grace, presented to us as God’s gift.
The Preface reminds us that we “rejoice in the glory bestowed upon those exalted members of the Church.” They’re exalted because they have already conquered the world, have already won the victory of life. They’re exalted because they’ve been raised on high to be with Christ, not yet in the resurrection (except the Virgin Mary) but in Christ’s glory—like Moses and Elijah at Jesus’ transfiguration. Peter, James, and John on that occasion experienced the glory of heaven, a joy, a euphoria, a warmth, a sense of belonging, a fulfillment—“it’s good for us to be here” (Mark 9:5)—hard for us to imagine and impossible for us to replicate. But all the saints now enjoy that glory. We rejoice for them, rejoice in their victory, their everlasting safety from the dangers of our earthly pilgrimage (cf. Preface); we feel a sense of kinship with them based on our shared humanity and our shared faith. This glory is like the sense of pride, belonging, and elation that one feels when the victorious home team or some national hero returns for a ticker tape parade, or like the way Catholics in general and Irish-Americans in particular celebrate the triumphs of Notre Dame.
The Preface continues: “thru them you give us, in our frailty, both strength and good example.” We’re well aware of our own frailty—our sinfulness, our proneness to inadvertent errors of one sort or another. In recent weeks we’ve been reminded often of that in discussions of whether Junipero Serra ought to be canonized, given how he sometimes treated the mission Indians. We might also think of how stubborn Don Bosco could be, e.g., in his relationship with Abp. Gastaldi. We recall the necessary conversions of Paul, Augustine, Ignatius, and 2 notables whom Pope Francis highlighted in his address to Congress: Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day. But God’s gift of grace is more powerful than our weakness! We rejoice in what God has done in the saints, and seeing them we hope for what he might do in us.
|Ignatius of Loyola wounded in battle|
Then we look at the “good example” of the saints, the models of human holiness that they provide. They show us how to live as disciples of Christ on our pilgrimage. Their prayers for us give us strength and encouragement, which the Collect emphasized.
So for all these reasons—and perhaps others that you may think of—today we celebrate the great festival of God’s holy city, the great gift of God’s grace manifest in the human race.