Posted October 31, 2020
Feast of All Saints
All Saints is a lovely Feast because it brings together all the saints in heaven in one huge celebration. We see how powerful the love of Jesus has been throughout history and in all the nations of the world. All of these countless saints have one thing in common: they all reflect the love of Jesus, just as all the leaves in the forest reflect the brilliance of the morning sun. However, while we think of what they all have in common, we are struck by how different they all are. No one saint is like another. If we celebrate the feast of ‘All Saints’, it is not because we find them all the saints so similar that we want to lump them all together. It is just that we do not have enough days in the year to assign them all separate feasts.
Think of the endless diversity of the cultures, missions, vocations, temperaments, personalities, gifts, and individual circumstances of the members who make up the ‘communion of saints’. Of course we can divide them into groups on the basis of some common features: like those who performed heroic acts of endurance under atrocious torment; those who spent all their days in quiet, humble adoration; those who were granted an almost habitual mystical intimacy with God; those who spent many years of their life in a seemingly endless ‘dark night of the soul’; those who witnessed with their blood, and those who witnessed with their silence; those who bestrode the world in an aura of sanctity; those who devoted themselves inconspicuously to the daily routine of the parent or the priest or the spouse or the unmarried or the bereaved, intent only on the unseen acts of goodness, compassion and love and the hidden suffering that Providence required of them. But even when you divide them into groups like that, you have still not noticed the astonishing singularity of each one of them. Rather, you have obscured it. For God rejoices even more in the diversity of his new creation than he does in the diversity of his first creation. As St Paul puts it, when making the very same point to the Corinthians: ‘The sun has its own splendour, the moon another splendour, and the stars yet another splendour; and one star differs from another in splendour. So it is in the resurrection of the dead.’ It’s what the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins meant when he wrote: ‘Glory be to God for dappled things!’ Hopkins was referring to the dappled diversity of nature. But it applies even more to the diversity of grace. That’s why Ephesians too can speak of the ‘dappled diversity’ of God’s wisdom in the Church. God so radiates his splendour through the prism of Christ that the whole of redeemed humanity is dappled with the diversity of colours that radiate from God’s own being in an infinite spectrum.
So where are you in this divine kaleidoscope? There is one thing you can be certain of. You will not be like any other saint. Just as you are not like any other individual in your makeup and your personal circumstances, so your holiness will not be like that of any other saint. We speak of taking the saints as our role models, but really no other saint can be your role model, for no other saint is made out of your personality, your gifts, your weaknesses and temptations, your failures and your victories, your life experience and your daily circumstances; above all, no other saint has received the calling that is unique to you, reserved for you alone. Is God so lacking in imagination that he must resort to making copies of his masterpieces?
God addresses each one of you today and calls you once again to that sanctity that is uniquely yours as individuals. God knows you individually by name; knows your little anguishes, and your hidden sufferings; knows your problems, your regrets; knows your doubts and your timidity; knows your limitations and your pettiness; knows your unimagined potential. I think one day we shall be surprised to see how far God’s holiness had shone through our souls just when we thought all was lost or at least when we thought that nothing would ever be gained.
You see, we tend to see holiness as an extraordinary achievement on the part of outstanding individuals, like the achievement of an Olympic medallist. Perhaps St Paul is partly to blame for that, because he sometimes uses athletic metaphors when exhorting his converts to holiness. But St Paul knew more than anyone that holiness is not about achieving. It is about receiving. It means coming empty-handed to God and saying yes to what God has to give. And what God gives, he gives out of sheer grace, not because we have merited anything. ‘It is God who works in you both the willing and the doing’, he tells the Philippians. As Ephesians puts it: ‘It is by grace that you have been saved, through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God; your salvation is not based on anything you have done ‒ lest anyone give himself the credit.’
St Thérèse of Lisieux grasped the point from an early age, and even on her death-bed she had not forgotten it. ‘I am happy at the thought of going to heaven’, she told her sisters. ‘But when I read those words of Scripture, “The Lord is coming soon to reward everyone according to their works”, I say to myself “Well then, he’s going to be very embarrassed when he comes to me, because I don’t have any works.”‘ ‘Ah, but then’, she says, after some reflection, ‘He will reward me according to his works.’ That is what today’s feast is about: God rewarding us according to his works.
Let’s turn our minds and hearts to the sheer beauty of it all, even in the midst of our present distress.
Fr Tom Deidun