As November begins, the last vestiges of fall have all but disappeared. The trees are bare, the temperatures have plummeted and the hours of daylight have decreased. Although every season has its beauty, November and the waning days of fall are often chilly and gray as they usher in the winter season.
In this rather bleak natural landscape, however, November provides something special for those of us on the journey of faith. On its very first day, All Saints Day, we celebrated not only the Church’s recognized saints but our deepest identity, the call to be saints. The following day we remembered those who have gone before us in death. Both days remind us we are not isolated individuals. We belong to a communion of saints. Let’s reflect for a moment on each of these realities: the call to be saints, the faithful departed and the communion of saints.
The Year of Faith began on October 11, 2012, the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council and the twentieth anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Benedict XVI encouraged us to return to these two sources as we embarked upon the renewal of our faith. The Constitution on the Church is one of the four major documents of the Council. To my mind one of the most important chapters in this document is Chapter V, “The Universal Call to Holiness.” We read there,
“…[E]veryone is called to holiness, according to the saying of the Apostle: ‘For this is the will of God, your sanctification’” (Constitution on the Church, 39).
When I was growing up, and I imagine this might be so for people my age, it was common to think that priests and sisters were the ones called to holiness. Generally speaking I do not think our parents or the faithful in general thought they were called to be saints. And even today there remains the association of holiness with the canonized saints, the exceptional figures who throughout history followed Christ in extraordinary ways and have been recognized officially as saints. Or perhaps we think of holy people from our time like Mother Teresa, Dorothy Day, John XXIII, Blessed John Paul II, Marianne Cope and Oscar Romero. Whether from the distant past or from our more immediate time, we consider these men and women to be the “real” saints. We conclude there is a considerable gulf between them and regular people like ourselves.
But not so. We are all called to be holy, to be saints. But let’s remember we cannot become a saint on our own. We need God’s grace. We need to listen to His word, receive it into our hearts and act upon it. We need to be nourished by regular attendance at Sunday Mass, the worthy reception of His sacred Body and Blood in the Eucharist, the regular reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation and acts of love and mercy toward our neighbor, especially the marginalized.
The Council told us that holiness is manifested in the fruits of grace which the Holy Spirit gives to the faithful who in fidelity to this grace and the responsibilities of their state in life walk the path of sanctity until they reach the eternal glory of heaven.
In one of his recent morning homilies, Pope Francis reminded us “We are on the path of sanctification, but we must take it seriously!” (Pope Francis, Homily, October 24, 2013). He goes on to say that we cannot be “lukewarm” Christians or Christians who walk at “half-speed.” If we love Christ, imitate Him by living the commandments and beatitudes and fulfill the duties of our state in life we are well on our way to the joy and beauty of union with God in eternity. We are serious about our deepest identity: the call to sanctity.
Immediately following All Saints Day we remembered the faithful departed. As a day of remembrance it can be a day both of sadness and joy. I know I find that to be the case. I mourn the loss of those who have died, especially those closest to me, parents, relatives and friends. In this sadness, however, there is hope and joy. The divine promise is so clear: “This is the will of my Father that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him on the last day” (Jn 6:40). Eternal life awaits all of us. “When believers die they go but a little distance from us that they may pass to a better state”
(St. Augustine, Sermon 172).
At each Mass we remember the deceased in these or similar words: “Remember our brothers and sisters who have fallen asleep in the hope of the resurrection, and all who have died in your mercy: welcome them into the light of your faith” (Eucharistic Prayer II). In one of his sermons, St. Augustine refers to this commemoration. “The prayers we offer to God for them are not futile. We must never waver in our belief that they are profitable to the dead . . . who have lived in such a way before death that these things can be useful to them afterwards” (Sermon 172). The faithful departed rely upon our prayers so that one day they may see God face to face.
As I thought about the saints, our call to holiness and the faithful departed, I was reminded of the Communion of Saints. “At the present time some of Christ’s disciples are pilgrims on earth. Others have died and are being purified, while still others are in glory, contemplating ‘in full light, God himself triune and one, exactly as he is’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 954). The pilgrims on earth, the saints in heaven and the faithful departed in their final purification are all joined in Christ. We ask the saints for their guidance and assistance in our earthly journey. The saints, being close to Christ, intercede for us, bringing our needs and concerns to Him. We pray for the dead, knowing that when their journey is complete, they will intercede for us.
During these November days and beyond, let us keep in mind our call to holiness and our union with those who have gone before us, both the saints and the faithful departed who are being purified. Let us not be sluggish or lax in our faith. Let’s walk at full-speed toward the joy of eternity.
If you have a prayer intention you would like me to consider during the weeks ahead, please mail it to my attention at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, N.Y. 13202.