Father MIKAEL SCHINK S.J.
Sermon for the Solemnity of All Saints
1 November 2020, St. Eugenia Catholic Church, Stockholm
+ Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
The solemnity of all saints is a very ancient Christian feast. It probably has its origin in the fact that as the number of martyrs and saints grew in the early Church, it became practically impossible to assign a separate feast-day to each of the increasing number of saints. But the Church still felt that every martyr and saint should be celebrated and therefore appointed a common day of celebration for all. Already in the 4th century, such a celebration is mentioned in the sermons of St. Ephrem the Syrian and St. John Chrysostom, but the earliest traces of the feast are found in Antioch on the Sunday after Pentecost, a date that the Eastern Catholic Churches have retained for this celebration. In the Western Church, the feast was fixed to the 1st of November by pope Gregory III in the 8th century.
Why do we venerate and pray for the intercession of the saints? Protestants are for instance generally sceptical to the veneration and especially to the intercession of the saints. This attitude is not at all surprising since one of the major if not the main Protestant misconception is the strong reduction of a mediation of the Church. We Catholics believe that God gives grace mainly through the Church that Christ founded, which is his body. For example, Saint Thomas Aquinas in fine passage says that Christ is the root of all grace, but the grace of Christ is applied to us by particular things such as the sacraments or the intercessions of the Church (In II Sent. 27.1.6 ad 2).
This mediation of graces reminds us of the fact that today’s feast is also about the Church as the communion of saints. For instance, in the Apostle’s creed, we say that we believe in ‘the communion of saints’. But what is the communion of saints? It means that there is a certain bond between all of us who are in Christ through charity. And because we are one body in Christ, we can also pray for one another and be mediators of God’s grace to each other, just as one part of the human body serves and affects other parts of the body.
The solemnity of all saints also reminds us of the traditional division of the Church into the Church militant, the Church penitent and the Church triumphant. Today, we celebrate the Church triumphant in heaven. We celebrate and venerate all those who are already in heaven and enjoy the beatific vision of God as he is in himself. The saints have already arrived at their final destination, the goal for which they and also we have been created.
Tomorrow, on all soul’s day, we will pray for the Church penitent. The liturgical colour of this day is black or violet, because it is a day of prayer for those who have deceased but who are not yet with God in heaven because they are being purified in purgatory. It is commonly said that most people who die in the state of grace will have to go to purgatory before being assumed into heaven, because only the saints are so pure already in this life that the can enter heaven directly when they die. Therefore, we also pray for the dead and celebrate masses for them, in the hope that our prayers will help the souls in purgatory.
Finally, there is the Church militant, consisting in us who are still here in this world, on our way, as it were, towards our heavenly destination. The name Church militant reminds us of the fact that life here on earth is a struggle for holiness. In the book of Job, we can read that ‘The life of man upon earth is the life of a soldier, and his days are like the days of a mercenary’ (Job 7:1, Vulgate). We are on our way to God, but the way to paradise is beset by dangers, so that we have to be vigilant and watchful if we wish to reach our goal without falling.
In a relativistic and materialistic world as ours it is not difficult to see what these dangers might consist in. The struggle against the world, the devil and the flesh was also the struggle of the saints. The lives of the saints are filled with stories of how they overcame various temptations and tribulations by surrendering to God and trusting in his assistance.
The gospel that we read today has been retained from the old calendar and perfectly describes the lives of the saints. It consists in the seven beatitudes by which Jesus begins his instruction in the Sermon on the Mount. Let us meditate on just the first of the beatitudes: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’ (Matt. 5:3). This beatitude is mentioned first by Jesus because it is in a certain way the basis of the spiritual life.
What does it mean to be poor in Spirit? It means that I do not seek the ‘richness of spirit’, i.e. I do not seek to magnify myself by pride or by the appreciation of other people or by external possessions. Rather, I am poor in spirit because I subject myself to God and his grace so that I can be moved by the Holy Spirit. This is the beginning of the spiritual life: the Holy Spirit wants to move us towards God, but we have to let ourselves be moved by submitting to God’s grace. If we are attentive, we will notice that the Holy Spirit tries to move us many times during the day by special inspirations, and so we have to subject ourselves to him so that we can move closer to God.
It is a well-established doctrine that the Holy Spirit cannot move us in a manner contrary to the teaching and tradition of the Church. For example, the Holy Spirit cannot move a married man to leave his wife and family for another woman, or a priest to abandon his priesthood in order to be with a woman that he has fallen in love with. Such impulses are certainly not from God.
But nor can the Holy Spirit move us in a manner that is contrary to the lives of the saints. In this way, the lives of the saints are very instructive for the spiritual life. If we wish to be good Christians, if we wish to be holy, if we wish to follow Christ, we must live like the saints did. And if we are doing something that is in contradiction with the lives of the saints, we are surely not on the right path. In this way, the saints are our teachers in a way that complements the teachings of the magisterium.
Let us therefore turn towards the Lord and through the intercession of all the Saints pray: that we may become more united with them in the communion of saints, that we may fight the good fight of faith in the Church militant and follow in their footsteps so that we may one day reach our goal and enter the Church triumphant in heaven. +Amen.