When the calendar reaches November, I often think of the faithful departed — both the saints in eternal glory and those who are on their way to heaven but are still in need of purification and our prayers. November is a month of remembrance.
On November 1, we recall the saints — those who in this life were faithful disciples imitating the pattern of Jesus’ life. We all need heroes, people who inspire us by their fidelity to the Gospel and witness to the power of God’s grace. I love the saints. I have my favorites — St. Thomas More, St. Therese of Lisieux, St. John Neumann, St. Patrick, St. Joseph, St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta — but as the liturgical calendar unfolds each year, I welcome the celebration of every saint.
We have new saints on the calendar. On Sunday, October 14, Pope Francis canonized seven saints. Two of them are familiar to many of us: Pope Paul VI and Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero. The other five — Vincent Romano, Francesco Spinelli, Nunzio Sulprizio, Nazaria Ignacia March Mesa, and Maria Katerina Kasper — may be less well known. However, as Pope Francis said in the homily at their canonization, “All these saints, in different contexts, put the Gospel into practice in their lives, without lukewarmness, without calculation, with the passion to risk everything and to leave all behind.” The saints, in all their diversity — age, race, historical circumstances, and cultural challenges — are living examples of our vocation to holiness.
The universal call to holiness has a prominent place in the Second Vatican Council Dogmatic Constitution on the Church. In Chapter Five, we learn that the call to holiness is not limited to any one state in life, but is indeed universal, embracing all baptized Christians. “In the Church, everyone whether belonging to the hierarchy, or being cared for by it, is called to holiness, according to the saying of the Apostle: ‘For this is the will of God, your sanctification.’ However, this holiness of the Church is unceasingly manifested, and must be manifested, in the fruits of grace which the Spirit produces in the faithful; it is expressed in many ways in individuals, who in their walk of life, tend toward the perfection of charity, thus causing the edification of others . . .”
At one of his general audiences, Pope Benedict XVI offered very practical thoughts on our baptismal call to holiness. “Perhaps the language of the Second Vatican Council is a little too solemn for us, perhaps we should say things even more simply. What is essential? The essential means never leaving a Sunday without an encounter with the Risen Christ in the Eucharist; this is not an additional burden but is light for the whole week. It means never beginning and never ending a day without at least a brief contact with God. And, on the path of life, it means following the ‘signposts’ that God has communicated to us in the Ten Commandments, interpreted with Christ, which are merely the explanation of what love is in specific situations. It seems to me that his is the true simplicity and greatness of a life of holiness: the encounter with the Risen One on Sunday; contact with God at the beginning and at the end of the day; following, in decisions, the ‘signposts’ that God had communicated to us, which are but forms of charity” (Benedict XVI, General Audience, April 13, 2011).
November is the month to remember our call to holiness. It is a time to recall the “cloud of witnesses,” too numerous to count, who have been recognized as men and women of living faith, boundless hope, and ardent charity for God and neighbor. November 1 reminds us to befriend the saints, both those proclaimed by the Church and the many faithful souls known only to God who have touched our lives and inspired us to know the Gospel, live it and share it with others.
On November 2, we remember those who have gone before in death and await their entrance into eternal life. We think especially of our loved ones, parents, siblings, and friends, praying that their time of purification will come to an end so they can join the blessed in heaven.
Pope Paul VI in his Credo of the People of God, tells us, “We believe in the communion of all the faithful of Christ, those who are pilgrims on earth, the dead who are attaining their purification, and the blessed in heaven, all together forming one Church; and we believe that in this communion, the merciful love of God and his saints is ever listening to our prayers” (#30).
I have always considered the “communion of saints” a consoling and beautiful doctrine of our faith. It affirms that we are all members of one family — God’s family. Whether we are a living member of the family (church militant on earth) walking the path of holiness, a deceased member in need of purification (the church suffering) or the blessed in heaven (church triumphant) — we are members of one family. Family members support one another. Thus, we pray for our loved ones who have gone before us so their time of purification may be completed. We ask the intercession of those who are now in heaven and they, in turn, pray for us so that we may be faithful disciples and persevere in our Catholic faith until the Lord calls us home.
In communion with the members of Christ’s Body, the Church, we honor the saints and we commemorate the faithful departed. Let us hold the saints and all the faithful departed in our hearts during November. They help us to remember the freedom that comes with being a pilgrim who loves the earth but whose heart is set on heaven. May the Virgin Mary obtain for us the grace to believe firmly in eternal life and feel ourselves in true communion with our deceased loved ones.
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.