In the Catholic liturgical year we remember particular saints by name on their feast days, but on All Saints Day, a Day of Obligation, we remember and celebrate the lives of the many unnamed, ordinary, good people who walked with God in their daily lives.
As Pope Francis beautifully explains, “The solemnity of All Saints is ‘our’ celebration: not because we are good, but because the sanctity of God has touched our life. The saints are not perfect models, but people through whom God has passed. We can compare them to the church windows which allow light to enter in different shades of colour. The saints are our brothers and sisters who have welcomed the light of God in their heart and have passed it on to the world, each according to his or her own “hue”. But they were all transparent; they fought to remove the stains and the darkness of sin, so as to enable the gentle light of God to pass through. This is life’s purpose: to enable God’s light to pass through; it is the purpose of our life too.” (Angelus, Nov 1, 2017)
The word “saint” comes from the Latin sanctus. In Greek, it is hagios, which means “holy”. Reminding us again of our life’s calling in his 2018 Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et exsultate (GS), Pope Francis observes, “We are frequently tempted to think that holiness is only for those who can withdraw from ordinary affairs to spend much time in prayer. That is not the case. We are all called to be holy by living our lives with love and by bearing witness in everything we do, wherever we find ourselves.” (GS 14). Indeed, he says, “Very often it is a holiness found in our next-door neighbours, those who, living in our midst, reflect God’s presence.” (GS 7)
He explains that “This holiness to which the Lord calls you will grow through small gestures. Here is an example: a woman goes shopping, she meets a neighbour and they begin to speak, and the gossip starts. But she says in her heart: ‘No, I will not speak badly of anyone’. This is a step forward in holiness. Later, at home, one of her children wants to talk to her about his hopes and dreams, and even though she is tired, she sits down and listens with patience and love. That is another sacrifice that brings holiness. Later she experiences some anxiety, but recalling the love of the Virgin Mary, she takes her rosary and prays with faith. Yet another path of holiness. Later still, she goes out onto the street, encounters a poor person and stops to say a kind word to him. One more step.” (GS 16)
Saints in church
Pope Francis assures us that “In the Church, holy yet made up of sinners, you will find everything you need to grow towards holiness. The Lord has bestowed on the Church the gifts of Scripture, the sacraments, holy places, living communities, the witness of the saints…”. (GS 15)
We can find all the above when we attend Holy Mass in church. Pope Francis says that “By singing the Sanctus, [Holy, holy, holy Lord God of hosts] … at that moment, in the Mass, we are united with all the saints: not only the most well-known, from the [liturgical] calendar, but also those “next door”, our family members and acquaintances who are now part of that great multitude. Therefore, today [All Saints Day] is a family celebration!” (Angelus, Nov 1, 2018)
But he challenges us: “Let us ask ourselves which side we are on: that of heaven or that of earth? Do we live for the Lord or for ourselves, for eternal happiness or for some immediate gratification?… It is good for us to let ourselves be spurred on by the saints, who did not use ‘half-measures’ here, and are ‘cheering us on’ from there, so that we may choose God.”
Saints of purpose
On our journey towards holiness and sainthood on earth, we are cheered on by “The saints of all times, whom today we celebrate all together, [who] are not simply symbols, distant, unreachable human beings… [but] people who lived with their feet on the ground; [who] experienced the daily toil of existence with its successes and failures, finding in the Lord the strength to rise again and again, and to continue on their journey.” (Pope Francis, Angelus, Nov 1, 2019).
Perhaps some people we have loved or known have already come to mind. Like them, let us choose God over self and heaven over earth. Let us take baby steps and make small gestures of holiness. Let us commune with the saints at every Mass and let the light of Christ shine through us in all our myriad colours so that our sainthood-in-the-making will be a family celebration not just on All Saints Day but every day!