The month of November opens with the celebration of one of the richest feasts of the liturgical year, the Solemnity of All Saints. On this day, the Church celebrates the festival of God’s holy city and the redeemed citizenry of heaven.
The feast of All Saints celebrates all those who lived in the model of Christ and inspired their fellow men and women in a remarkable way. The saints made a great difference in the world, and even now they continue to inspire us to do great things.
The saints are not simply nice decorations in the world of Christian spirituality. A struggling humanity needs their example and inspiration desperately.
Gerald Vann, a 20th century English spiritual writer, puts this well when he writes: “For the church is, and has always been, a net that has caught all sorts of fish. She is, and has always been, a strange combination of the drab and the magnificent, the squalid and the heroic, the shabby and the beautiful. Her garden has produced both weeds and flowers. The saints are the flowers, and we must admit that without them the sanctity of the Church would not be very much in evidence. It is through them that Christ’s light shines to the nations, and it is in them that Christians see what holiness really means. It is no wonder then that the Church takes pride in those noble examples of Christian living, and boldly proclaims their greatness to the world.”
The saintly men and women do not exist in a world beyond or disconnected from ours, but are part of the very fabric of our existence. The modern person likes to think that he or she is self-made. But the fact is, we are what we are because of those who have gone before us. We are brought to birth by others. We are formed by the spiritual inheritance of other generations. We live our lives happily only in community and our lives are profitable only when directed to the up—building of the human community. We are saved and brought to final fulfillment not by anything we ourselves are able to do—but by the God of mercy and redemption, and through the assistance of countless others in the spiritual community of God’s people.
The saints exist for us and with us. We venerate them not as distant historical figures but as brothers and sisters with whom we are joined in a living communion.
The great French writer Paul Claudel pointed out that the treasures of all the saints are at our disposal. “All the saints and the angels belong to us. We can use the intelligence of St. Thomas, the right arm of St. Michael, the hearts of Joan of Arc and Catherine of Siena, and all the hidden resources which have only to be touched to be set in action. . . The heroism of the missionary, the inspiration of the Doctors of the Church, the generosity of the martyrs, the genius of the artists, the burning prayer of the Poor Clares and Carmelites—it is as if all that were ourselves; it is ourselves.”
Like all great feasts of the liturgical year, the Solemnity of All Saints is a celebration of the Church living in history now. The stories of the saints are our stories, and our own little stories are ennobled and exalted by becoming part of the great Christian story. In this truth we should find great hope and encouragement.