Today, November 1, is the Solemnity of All Saints.
Many Catholics think of All Saints Day as a day to remember all of our favorite canonized saints, and I understand that. At the Vigil Mass for the Solemnity last night, the pastor encouraged us to draw the name of a saint from a bowl in the vestibule and use the next year to become more familiar with that canonized saint. The gesture is genuine.
But, a former pastor of many years ago made what I thought was an excellent point: The canonized saints already have their feast days and memorials. Today’s solemnity is for all those unknown saints who have entered into glory, if you will, under the radar. These are those who will never be canonized, because their lives are known to but a few and their causes are never likely to be championed except in the hearts of those who knew and loved them during their temporal years on earth.
Even more, today is a day to celebrate the mystery of the Communion of Saints, and to do that we need to embrace the wider, less appreciated understanding of sainthood that includes all of us as members of the Body of Christ. For, we are all saints!
The Church used to speak more often of the three-fold Communion of Saints. There are the saints triumphant: those saints already enjoying the glory of the heavenly realm, the saints penitent or suffering: those saints being prepared for heaven by being purified in purgatory, and the saints militant: those saints still doing battle here on earth against the wiles of the devil, both for the sake of the Kingdom and for the sake of their own souls.
We need saints! The Church today is under great stress, embattled from within and from without. Our society is terribly polarized, and the Church is not spared this tension. Brothers and sisters in Christ are taking sides, too often against each other rather than against the forces of evil that batter the Church. Catholics are no longer on speaking terms with other Catholics and “un-friending” each other on social media over the political and social divisions that really ought to have little to nothing to do with the unity within the Body of Christ. I was informed a few months ago that I was not a true Catholic because I was not a card-carrying member of a particular political party, and this by a man with whom I had worked on Church projects and beside whom I had worshiped every Sunday for years.
Besides political and social issues, there have been and remain plenty within the Church eager to attack or compromise the fullness of Church teaching. Accommodationists and false teachers abound, and they are, perhaps, the greatest threat to the Church because they attack her credibility from within, causing genuine scandal among the faithful, meaning a willingness to embrace something less than the fullness of God’s revelation in Christ.
As well, the Church continues to take hits from those in the secular realm, or from other religious traditions, who hate her and all she stands for. In the wake of the sexual abuse scandal, politicians are wetting their lips hoping to exploit the scandal for their political gain. Do they care about the kids? My take: not so much. (If they did, there are plenty of other institutions where the sexual and physical abuse of children is far more common, yet ignored). Of course, there is always abortion, birth control and the moral teachings of the Church for the anti-Catholic crowd to target. It has always been such, and always will be.
So, what is the response to all of this? Two words: personal sanctity. Personal sanctity is the one thing the devil can never defeat. Personal sanctity is the one thing the enemies of the Church can never overcome. Personal sanctity is the one thing those determined to undermine the Church can never undermine. Why? Because personal sanctity is personal and, as such, it is entirely within the purview of the individual under the power of God’s grace. Therefore, it cannot be touched from the outside. It can only be surrendered from within.
Be a saint!
Never surrender your personal sanctity to the madding crowd, to false friends, to enemies of Christ, or to the devil himself. Never surrender your personal sanctity to the demons of sloth or acedia (spiritual laziness), to your own personal preferences or desires. Never surrender your personal sanctity even to those who would demand that you forsake it under threat of severe consequences, the loss of a job, the loss of a friendship, the loss of any material possession, or even the loss of your life.
What does it take to live a life of personal sanctity? Courage! Courage is the one virtue possessed by all the saints. Yes, many saints excelled in many virtues, and they all excelled in quite a few. But, the one possessed by every saint was courage – courage in the face of enemies, courage in the face of temptation, courage in the face of the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and, especially, courage in the face of themselves and their own weakness.
Why does personal sanctity require courage? We tend to think of personal sanctity as excelling in the life of prayer and chastity. Yes, of course, that is much of it. Prayer and chastity are lived mostly in the private realm of the heart and home. But, personal sanctity also includes the courage to stand as a witness for the faith against attack, the virtues of fortitude and perseverance against temptations from within and attacks from without, whether those attacks are from natural or supernatural agents.
The Church needs many things today. She needs faithful priests. She needs bishops with wisdom and backbones. She needs men and women willing to give everything for the gospel. She needs uncompromising catechists. She needs men and women who bring the values of the gospel to bear on the public square. All of which means, the Church needs saints.
So, my advice: don’t fret none about being politically correct or incorrect, about being a Democrat, Republican, or Independent, about being on the right or wrong side of history, about being labeled a bigot, liberal, racist, deplorable, nationalist, misogynist, socialist, homophobe, or un-American, about how many likes you get on Facebook or how many folks share your tweets. Focus on growing in personal sanctity. Because, more than anything else (besides God’s grace, ‘natch!), the Church needs saints.
Make November 1 your solemnity.
Be a saint!
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.