This coming Sunday, Nov. 1, the Church universal will celebrate the Solemnity of All Saints. The next day, Monday, Nov. 2, Catholics will pause to call to mind all the Faithful Departed, our own ancestors in faith. I always consider these days special ones because on both days the words of the First Letter of John are offered for our reflection: “Beloved, we are God’s children now” (1 Jn 3:2a).
What does it mean that “we are God’s children now?” During the month of October I have been writing in this column about the inviolable sanctity and profound dignity of the human person from conception to natural death. As the Prophet Isaiah announces, “I have called you by name, you are mine … you are precious in my sight” (Is 43:1b, 4a). Yet I can’t help but wonder whether you and I really understand what this means.
The idea came to me on Monday morning as I listened to the daily Scripture reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians: “Be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love,as Christ loved us and handed himself over for us as a sacrificial offering to God for a fragrant aroma. Immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be mentioned among you, as is fitting among holy ones, no obscenity or silly or suggestive talk, which is out of place, but instead, thanksgiving. Be sure of this, that no immoral or impure or greedy person, that is, an idolater, has any inheritance in the Kingdom of Christ and of God” (Eph 5:1-5).
Hard-hitting words, but they reminded me of a confession I made a few years back during my yearly retreat. I told the priest confessor that I was guilty of idolatry. He asked me why I thought that, and I said I had come to realize that in my life I had put other things before God: my own wants and desires, sometimes found in things like status, or foul language, or material comforts. As I examined these things in my life, I just couldn’t help but notice how far from God they belonged and that they were, indeed, leading me away from God. I remember the priest telling me he had not thought in those terms before, but that it made perfect sense.
I guess that is why I am so willing to share such a confession with you. What is distracting you and me today from living as God’s sons and daughters? I can hear one saying, when facing one’s sins, “Well, I am only human!” But have you ever thought that sin makes us less than human? To be truly human is to live in the true likeness in which we are made: God’s!
This is why, in my final column of Respect Life month, I want to invite you and me to “Behave like God, as his very dear children” (Eph 5:1, Oct. 26’s Responsorial Psalm). One of my favorite stories about All Saints’ Day involves a little boy who was making a visit to the local church with his grandmother. He was in awe of the size and beauty of the church. He pointed to the statues of Mary and Joseph, as well as Jesus on the cross. He looked at the story being told in the Stations of the Cross plaques on the wall. His grandmother pointed to the sun-filled stained glass windows and asked him who those people were. He proudly spoke up and said, “Why, Grandma, those are the ones who let God’s light shine through them!”
Interestingly enough, that is what St. Paul invited the people of Ephesus to do as well: “Live as children of light” (Eph 5:8). I couldn’t help but understand the depth of Paul’s invitation when, at the 7 a.m. Mass on Oct. 26, the windows in the Cathedral were shrouded in darkness and the night seemed so impenetrable. However, if I had stepped out of the Cathedral interior into the outer darkness, I would have observed something quite different… light streaming forth from God’s dwelling place, casting away the darkness.
Sisters and brothers, for me that is the ultimate summons we are being given as we enter into the month of November, the penultimate month of the year. The word “penultimate” literally means “next to last,” but its deeper significance is that there is still something to wait for and that we are building toward. Think of what the month of November celebrates: God’s children (saints); elections; service; armistice for peace; Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe; Thanksgiving; the Last Things; and finally, Advent and the beginning of a new year/cycle of grace.
All these moments invite you and me to examine our lives in the light of Christ and His Gospel. In fact, on the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, which is the final Sunday of the Church’s year, throughout the world the words of Jesus found in Matthew 25:31-46 will be proclaimed, reminding you and me that our final judgment will be based on whatsoever we do to the least among us, we do to Jesus! This universal call to holiness is the very heart of the Vatican II document “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church.” All men and women are called to holiness wherever they find themselves in life. Such holiness’ foundation is Jesus himself and its fullness is seen in the exercise of Christian charity. A sobering question I face at the end of each year of grace is, “Have I increased in holiness? Has the Gospel of Jesus Christ become a greater part of my life?”
On Saturday, Oct. 31, Father Michael J. McGiveney, a priest of the Diocese of Hartford, Conn., and the founder of the Knights of Columbus, will be beatified in Hartford’s Cathedral of St. Joseph. Beatification calls to mind holiness of life and a spiritual vision, of one knowing God. The First Letter of St. John goes on to say, “Everyone who has this hope based on him makes himself as pure as he is pure” (1Jn 3:3). Purity is not an “in” word these days, but we are all aware of the harm that impurities can cause in a variety of ways. It even can be deadly.
With this in mind, let us use these last weeks of the Church’s year to recognize that now is the opportune time to “Behave like God, as his very dear children!” These challenging days in our diocese, our nation, and our world should not be ones in which we try to erase or ignore history. Rather, learning from the past, they are opportunities for you and me to further put our faith into action.
As Pope Francis writes in his recent encyclical, “Fratelli Tutti”: “Belief in God and the worship of God are not enough to ensure that we are actually living in a way pleasing to God. A believer may be untrue to everything that his faith demands of him, and yet think he is close to God and better than others. The guarantee of an authentic openness to God, on the other hand, is a way of practicing the faith that helps open our hearts to our brothers and sisters. Saint John Chrysostom expressed this pointedly when he challenged his Christian hearers: ‘Do you wish to honor the body of the Savior? Do not despise it when it is naked. Do not honor it in church with silk vestments while outside it is naked and numb with cold.’ Paradoxically, those who claim to be unbelievers can sometimes put God’s will into practice better than believers” (#74).
As the Prayer after Communion on All Saints’ Day states, “We implore your grace, so that coming to perfect holiness in the fullness of your love, we may pass from this pilgrim table to the banquet of our heavenly homeland.” Buona festa… Happy feast day!