As the liturgical year begins to draw to a close we have two important feasts which seem to sum up everything we need to keep in mind as people of faith and members of the Body of Christ. The two feasts are All Saints Day and All Souls Day, celebrated consecutively on November 1 and 2. That we celebrate all that is holy and potentially holy in people for two days reveals that this is what the Christian life is about. We are made in the image and likeness of God, and therefore we were made to reflect God’s holiness. Those who we laud as Saints are the ones who have taken the gifts they were given and filtered them all through love, becoming like Jesus. They became holy because they so loved God they could not do anything but respond in total love, offering their entire lives to heroic virtue as a way of saying “I love you” back to God. As we celebrate the Holy Souls we are reminded that we are all in the process of reflecting God’s love. While they may not have achieved the level of sanctity of the Saints, they teach us that the entire Body of Christ is connected through faith, hope, and love forever. We are One Body.
Holiness is in the fabric of all that God has made. Because God made everything, and God is the ultimate in holiness, everything has the imprint of His holiness upon it. That is to say, everything that God has made reflects His beauty and holiness. To look up in the night sky, if one can find a place away from light on a cloudless night, is to see into the heavens. The ever expanding universe is a marvel of God’s creation. One does not have to understand it to know that God has made this incredible reality. The beauty of the mathematics and physics behind it are languages which describe the holiness and love of God for all that He has made. The earth and all of its varied beauty from the lush to the arid, and the creatures of every sort that roam this earth: all of it is a reflection of the beauty and holiness of God. Another way to put this is to say everything that is made is sacred. It is sacred to Him and therefore it is meant to be sacred to us.
This sacredness includes His children. In fact, we are the most sacred of all since everything was made for us. The feasts of All Saints and All Souls remind us that holiness is not only attainable, but it is our goal. We are made to be holy. Of course, not everyone has been given the same gifts. As St. Paul points out in his famous letter to the Corinthians, the Church, the Body of Christ, would be lopsided (even boring!) if everyone were so homogeneous that we all had the same gift. (1Cor 12) The Body of Christ needs various types of people, each with different gifts, in order to function properly. We are to use our unique gifts, and to use them above all for love and mercy. We are not perfect, but God has provided role models for us who we can look upon as people who were able to offer the gift of their will to God so that they might shine like the stars for us. The Saints were not perfect, but their love became more like God’s and they were obvious in sharing that love with everyone they met.
It is no wonder that the first reading from All Souls Day says of the holy ones: “In the time of their visitation they shall shine, and shall dart about as sparks through stubble.” All the just ones that are deceased are in the hands of God and are in peace. (Wisdom 3:1-9) They sparkle because they lived in love and encourage us to live in the same love. They are at peace and teach us that we have nothing to fear in death. If we are baptized as members of the Body of Christ, we can never be separated from the love of God. We can never lose the breath of His holiness that is inside our soul, that which urges us to respond to Love in love. It is as if the love He ‘builds into’ us is reaching out to be reunited with the perfect Love from whence it came.
The gifts God gives to each one of us are the tools we have to grow in holiness. It is through the uniqueness of each gift, utilized though our individual personality and soul, that we reflect God’s love. How we become holy depends on how much we are able to join our desires to His desires for us. It is not that we lack freedom: what God desires of us is that we are happy. But He knows us better than we know ourselves, so He knows what is the best usage of our gifts and therefore where our greatest happiness lies. But no matter how we choose to love Him, all He really asks of us is that we do what is right, which means to love in every circumstance to the best of our ability, to work for justice, which means to be discerning, persevering, merciful, forgiving, and compassionate without sacrificing that which is right and true, and to walk humbly with God, which means to have a relationship with Him through prayer and worship. (Based upon Micah 6:8) This is why we view the Saints as being so holy. They loved in all they did, whether it meant tending to something odious like treating lepers or cleaning up the dying to give them dignity in death (St. Damien and Mother Teresa of Calcutta), or if it was in sweeping the refectory or bringing supplies to the poor (St. Thérèse of Lisieux and Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati). Even singing a hymn of praise with a heart overflowing with love, inspiring those around them to leave all in order to share the same joy and praise of an all-giving God is a way of attaining holiness. (St. Francis of Assisi) *
If one picks up a book on the lives of the Saints, one will almost immediately see that the Saints were as varied as flakes of snow. That is what is so glorious about the Body of Christ: we are all so very different! Every person no matter what ethnicity, gender, ability, educational background, race, or culture has the same potential to become holy. There are Saints of every sort: black, white, brown; women and men; married, single, religious, cleric; illiterate, with a PhD, or somewhere in between; able bodied or disabled; kings, queens, paupers; from many different nations. All who we celebrate as Saints are ordinary people who took what God gave them, even if it was tinged with great suffering, and found it to be a pathway to holiness, a way home to God. But along the way, they shared what they had been given, in order to take people home to God with them.
When we celebrate the Saints and the Holy Souls we are really celebrating ourselves. We are celebrating all that is good within each one of us and all that is in need of perfection within ourselves as well. We are extolling the incredible gift of being one family, one Body united in the Blood of Christ, united in His love. We are being reminded that each one of us is connected through Christ and His love forever, and that each one of us can reflect His love as ‘a spark darting through stubble.’ Each one of us can do more than we realize in a world which seems to enjoy denying everything which is good, a world which wants us to believe that sainthood is impossible and that all is bleak unless we throw our lot in with the pursuit of nothing but self and pleasure. The real lie there is that this implies that there is no pleasure in the things of God. How foolish, because the truest pleasure of all comes in the joy we receive when, as one, we come together as the family of God, a joy that only God can give and which is unlike anything this world has to offer. If we love, do justice, and walk with God, we will find that joy which God has written deeply within our own hearts and which will ultimately find its home in Him.
In celebrating the feasts of All Saints and All Souls let us come to rejoice in the depth and breadth of the Body of Christ! May we be filled with gratitude for the gift of the Saints and Holy Souls who are our role models and our guides! May we pray for the Holy Souls, and also ask their prayer for us and for our world! May the Holy Souls and Saints be our beacons, the sparks which dart about, who teach us the way to God and who teach us to love in our own unique circumstances! And may our Holy, Triune God, help us to see His imprint within our soul that we might shine brightly as our response of love to Him! Let us continue to meet in the Holy of Holies, which is the Heart of Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
The first image is called The Souls of the Just Are in the Hands of God. It is the work of Fr. William Hart McNichols. If you are interested in a copy you can find it at http://frbillmcnichols-sacredimages.com/featured/the-souls-of-the-just-are-in-the-hands-of-god-172-william-hart-mcnichols.html
The photo of the cosmos is from the Hubble Telescope.
The next icon is the work of Fr. William Hart McNichols called St. Damien of Moloka'i and is found at http://frbillmcnichols-sacredimages.com/featured/st-damien-of-molokai-235-william-hart-mcnichols.html
* You can also find icons of many of the saints I mentioned, such as St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati, many different icons of St. Francis of Assisi, including one of the latest, part of a beautiful work called Viriditas, http://frbillmcnichols-sacredimages.com/featured/st-francis-viriditas-william-hart-mcnichols.html
I recommend going to Fr. Bill's Fine Art America page and simply scrolling through all the Galleries of all the Saints and holy ones to find one or more which you like. I would have posted every saint on the page because I love them all...but why should I have all the fun? I will let you do that. (Remember, I get no remuneration from extolling his work. I simply love to share the beauty that is there.)
Click here for the link: http://frbillmcnichols-sacredimages.com/index.html
The last two photos are mine. The first is of the sky taken from Cloudcroft, New Mexico and the last was taken in the Cathedral of Saint Francis in Sante Fe, New Mexico.
Heart Speaks to Heart