Saturday, November 01, 2008

All Saints Day

Many thanks to the creativity of Fr. Mark Spruill of the diocese of Birmingham.  I loved the theme so much that I had to use it for my All Saints Day Homily.  Many thanks to

The podcast can be found here:

When it comes to our ultimate destiny, our journey toward holiness of life, are we hallowed or are we hollow?

Halloween very simply comes from the words for “All Hallows Evening”, the eve of All Saints Day.  To be hallowed is to be holy, as we pray in Our Lord’s prayer:  “Hallowed be thy name.”

Thoughts of our communion of Saints is all but ignored in our highly secularized culture.  The end of October comes around and most people are thinking of how to dress up the kids in costumes or tricks or treats. 

At the dawn of Christianity, there were many who gladly gave up their lives rather than renounce their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  THese people served as role models and inspiration for other Christians to persevere in the faith against terrible odds.   Some of these martyrs were known by name, having given public witness to the Faith.  Yet there were myriads of others whose names were not known.  These definitely needed to be commemorated.  Their witness is no less important than those whose names were known.  After the persecution of Christians was lifted and to be Christian was legal, this commemoration was extended to non-martyred holy people, living holy lives.  Originally, this was celebrated in May, during the season of resurrection.

Yet in the 9th century, it was deliberately moved from May to the first of November.   During that time, a Celtic pagan practice and ritual was rampant known as Samhain (sow-ain), literally meaning “Summer’s end”, named for a pagan god of death.   The superstition was that the spirits of the dead who had caused harm while in life would come back and cause mischief.   People would put out treats to appease these spirits.

The Christian practice of celebrating the Saints took hold soon after the feast was moved to November in 835 AD.   This became a day to pray for contrition and reconciliation, so the slate would be wiped clean for the coming year.   Often people would come masked and unrecognizable and ask for forgiveness for their sins, sometimes including a request for a morsel or two.  It became a time to care for the poor. 

From its pagan beginnings, these days in November became celebrations that serve to more firmly ground us in our Christian beliefs and our communion with all the holy ones in heaven.  Rather than focusing on ghosts, and plucky spirits rising from rotted gravestones, we have the opportunity to shift our focus to those of our brothers and sisters in the faith who set a positive example for the rest of us.

What does it mean for each of us to strive for the holiness that these holy men and women have achieved?   Simply, it is the vocation of each and every one of us:  a Universal Call to Holiness.  It consist of first recognizing who we are as children of God.  It means realizing that our true home is heaven, what the Church calls the Beatific Vision of God in all His Glory.  It means knowing how to attain heaven.

First, realizing our true selves before God.  This is not about what we do, but about where we came from.  Because we were created by God and destined for a specific purpose on this earth to accomplish before we return to God, we carry vestiges of God within us.  We are created in the image and likeness of God.  So, our natural inclination is to strive to return to the One who created us.  We have been claimed for Christ Jesus, the one who saved us from our sins by sacrificing Himself for us.  Through the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation, we realize God’s continuing interaction with us in our lives.

Our true home is heaven.  We are not meant to end in destruction.   When people die, they are never totally “gone”, even though they may not be present with us in body.  God’s creation is too precious to Him for them to simply be gone.   Yet while we are here on earth we strive to do the best we can in following the example of Jesus Christ and those who have closely followed Him before us.  While here on earth, we are known as the “Church Militant”.  Our brothers and sisters who have gone before us in faith share in the “Church Triumphant”.  They behold the glory of God.  Bottom line:  this world we see around us is not all there is.

How do we reach our destiny?  Listen to the Word of God.  We all know the ten Commandments, given to Moses.  These are directed toward our external actions and how those actions affect others in our community.  Yet Jesus in our Gospel today gets to the heart of the matter by reminding us of our internal attitudes:  the Beatitudes.  We can simply go through the motions of virtue by obeying the ten commandments and the precepts of the Church just because “That’s what I’m supposed to do.”   Yet, when we engage our hearts and souls as well as our minds and actions in the tasks of virtue, they become part of us.  Jesus calls those who follow His way “blessed”.  In the original language, these “blesseds” are rendered as “GOOD FOR YOU!”, If you are a peacemaker, or you hunger and thirst for righteousness, then GOOD FOR YOU!!.

This is how we become hallowed, sacred.  We realize that we are not alone in this struggle.  We can call upon those who have gone through this struggle before us.  In fact, we won’t be able to persevere unless we call upon these saints.  That is how our life in Christ becomes substantial, sacred hallowed, and not hollow.

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