The church in this great festival honours all the saints reigning together in glory; first, to give thanks to God for the graces and crowns of all his elect: secondly, to excite ourselves to a fervent imitation of their virtues by considering the holy example of so many faithful servants of God of all ages, sexes, and conditions, and by contemplating the inexpressible and eternal bliss which they already enjoy, and to which we are invited: thirdly, to implore the divine mercy through this multitude of powerful intercessors: fourthly, to repair any failures or sloth in not having duly honoured God in his saints on their particular festivals, and to glorify him in the saints which are unknown to us, or for which no particular festivals are appointed. Therefore our fervour on this day ought to be such that it may be a reparation of our sloth in all the other feasts of the year; they being all comprised in this one solemn commemoration, which is an image of that eternal great feast which God himself continually celebrates in heaven with all his saints, whom we humbly join in praising his adorable goodness for all his mercies, particularly for all treasures of grace which he has most munificently heaped upon them. In this and all other festivals of the saints God is the only object of supreme worship, and the whole of that inferior veneration which is paid to the saints is directed to give sovereign honour to God alone, whose gifts their graces are: and our addresses to them are only petitions to holy fellow creatures for the assistance of their prayers to God for us. When, therefore, we honour the saints, in them and through them we honour God, and Christ, true God and true man, the Redeemer and Saviour of mankind, the King of the Saints, and the source of all their sanctity and glory. In his blood they have washed their robes: from him they derive all their purity, whiteness, and lustre. We consider their virtues as copies taken from him, the great Original, as streams from his fountain, or as images of his virtues produced by the effusion of his spirit and grace in them. His divine life is their great exemplar and prototype, and in the characteristical virtues of each saint some of his most eminent virtues are particularly set forth: his hidden life in the solitude of the anchorets; his spotless purity in the virgins; his patience or charity in some; his divine zeal in others; in them all in some degree his plenitude of all virtue and sanctity Nor are the virtues of the saints only transcripts and copies of the life or spirit of Christ; they are also the fruit of his redemption; entirely his gifts and graces. And when we honour the saints we honour and praise him who is the Author of all their good; so that all festivals of saints are instituted to honour God and our Blessed Redeemer.
In all feasts of saints, especially in this solemn festival of All Saints, it ought to be the first part of our devotion to praise and thank God for the infinite goodness he has displayed in favour of his elect. A primary and most indispensable homage we owe to God is that of praise, the first act of love and complacency in God and his adorable perfections. Hence the Psalms, the most perfect and inspired model of devotions, repeat no sentiments so frequently or with so much ardour as those of divine adoration and praise. This is the uninterrupted sweet employment of the blessed in heaven to all eternity; and the contemplation of the divine love and other perfections is a perpetual incentive inflaming them continually afresh in it, so that they cannot cease pouring forth all their affections and exhausting all their powers; and conceive every moment new ardour in this happy function of pure love. So many holy solitaries of both sexes in this life have renounced all commerce and pleasures of the world, to devote themselves wholly to the mixed exercises of praise and love, and of compunction and humble supplication. In these, all servants of God find their spiritual strength, refreshment, advancement, delight, and joy. To aid our weakness and supply our insufficiency in magnifying the infinite Lord of all things, and exalting his glory, we have recourse to the spotless victim, the sacrifice of the Lamb of God, put into our hands for us to offer a holocaust of infinite price, equal to the majesty of the Godhead. We also rejoice in the infinite glory which God possesses in himself, and from himself. Deriving from himself infinite greatness and infinite happiness, he stands not in need of our goods, and can receive no accession from our homages as to internal glory; in which consists his sovereign bliss. But there is an external glory which he receives from the obedience and praise of his creatures, which, though it increase not his happiness, is nevertheless indispensably due to him, and an external homage with which all beings are bound to sound forth his sovereign power and sanctity. Nor do we owe him this only for his own greatness and glory, which he possesses in himself, but also for the goodness, justice, wisdom' and power which he manifests in all his works. Compounds of the divine mercies as we are, we are bound to give to God incessant thanks for all the benefits, both in the order of nature and of grace, which he has gratuitously conferred upon us. We owe him also an acknowledgment of praise and thanksgiving for all his creatures from the beginning, and for all the wonders he has wrought in them or in their behalf. For this the psalmist and the prophets so often rehearse his mighty works, and invite all beings to magnify his holy name for them.
It is in his saints that he is wonderful above all his other works. For them was this world framed: for their sakes is it preserved and governed. In the revolution of states and empires, and in the extirpation or conservation of cities and nations, God has his elect chiefly in view. By the secret unerring order of his most tender and all-wise providence, "All things work together for good to them." For their sake will God shorten the evil days in the last period of the world. The justification of a sinner, the sanctification of a soul, the fruit of numberless stupendous works, the most wonderful exertion of infinite goodness and mercy, and of Almighty power. The creation of the universe out of nothing is a work which can bear no comparison with the salvation of a soul through the redemption of Christ. And with what infinite condescension and tenderness does the Lord of all things watch over every one of his elect! With what unspeakable invisible gifts does he adorn them! To how sublime and astonishing a dignity does he exalt them, making them companions of his blessed angels, and co-heirs with his Divine Son! Weak and frail en, plunged in the gulf of sin, he, by his omnipotent arm and by the most adorable and stupendous mercy, has re cued from the slavery of the devil and jaws of hell; has cleansed them from all stains; and by the ornaments of his grace has rendered them most beautiful and glorious. And with what honour has he crowned them! To what an immense height of immortal glory has he raised them! and by what means His grace conducted them by humility, patience, charity, and penance through ignominies, torments, pains, sorrows, mortifications, and temptations to joy and bliss, by the crass to their crowns. Lazarus, who here below was covered with ulcers, and denied the crumbs of bread which fell from the rich man's table, is now seated on a throne of glory, and replenished with delights which neither eye hath seen nor ear hath heard. Poor fishermen, here the outcast of the world, are made assessors with Christ in judging the world at the last day; so great will be the glory and honour with which they will be placed on thrones at his right hand, and bear testimony to the equity of the sentence which he will pronounce against the wicked. "Thy friends are exceedingly honoured, O God." These glorious citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem he has chosen out of all the tribes of the children of Israel, and out of all nations, without any distinction of Greek or barbarian; persons of all ages, showing there is no age which is not ripe or fit for heaven; and out of all states and conditions; in the throne amidst the pomp of worldly grandeur; in the cottage; in the army; in trade; in the magistracy; clergymen, monks, virgins, married persons, widows, slaves, and freemen. In a word, what state is there that has not been honoured with its saints; And they were all made saints by the very occupations of their states, and by the ordinary occurrences of life; prosperity and adversity; health and sickness; honour and contempt; riches and poverty; all which they made the means of their sanctification by the constant exercise of patience, humility, meekness, charity, resignation, and devotion. This is the "manifold grace of God." We are called upon with the whole church militant on earth to join the church triumphant in heaven in praising and thanking our most merciful God for the graces and glory he has bestowed on his saints. Shall we not, at the same time, earnestly conjure him to exert his omnipotence and mercy in raising us from all our spiritual miseries and sins, healing the disorders of our souls, and conducting us through the paths of true penance to the happy company of his saints, to which he has vouchsafed most graciously to invite us?
Nothing can more powerfully incite us to aspire with all our strength to the incomparable happiness and blessed company of the saints than their example. Nor can anything more strongly inflame us with holy emulation than the constant meditation on that glory of which they are even now possessed, and in which they earnestly wait for us to join them. How does their immortality inspire us with a contempt of the inconstant, perishable, and false honours of this world!
Do we complain of our frailty? The saints were made of the same mould with us. But being sensible of their weakness, they were careful to retrench all incentives of their passions, to shun all dangerous occasions of sin, to ground themselves in the most profound humility, and to strengthen themselves by the devout use of the sacraments, prayer, an entire distrust in themselves, and other means of grace. It was by the strength they received from above, not by their own, that they triumphed over both their domestic and their external enemies. We have the same succours by which they were victorious. The blood of Christ was shed for us as it was for them; the all-powerful grace of our Redeemer is not wanting to us, but the failure is in ourselves. If difficulties start up, if temptations affright us, if enemies stand in our way like monsters and giants, which seem ready to devour us, let us not lose courage, but redouble our earnestness, crying out with Josue, "The Lord is with us. Why do we fear?" If the world pursue us, let us remember that the saints fought against it in all its shapes. If our passions are violent, Jesus has furnished us with arms to tame them and hold them in subjection. How furious assaults have many saints sustained in which they were supported by victorious grace! Of this many are instances who had had the misfortune formerly to have fortified their passions by criminal habits. St. Austin, after having been engaged many years in irregular courses, conquered them. How many other holy penitents broke stronger chains than ours can be, by courageously using violence upon themselves, and became eminent saints I Can we, then, for shame think the difficulties we apprehend an excuse for our sloth which, when we resolutely encounter them, we shall find to be more imaginary than real? Shall we shrink at the thought of self-denial, penance, or prayer? Shall not we dare to undertake or to do what numberless happy troupe of men and women have done and daily do? So many tender virgins, so many youths of the most delicate complexion and education, so many princes and kings, so many of all ages. constitutions, and conditions have courageously walked before us! "Canst not thou do what these and those persons of both sexes have done?" said St. Austin to himself. Their example wonderfully inspires us with resolution, and silences all the pretexts of pusillanimity. To set before our eyes a perfect model of the practice of true virtue, the Son of God became man and lived amongst us. That we may not say the example of a God-man is too exalted for us, we have that of innumerable saints who, inviting us to take up the sweet yoke of Christ, say to us with St. Paul, "Be you imitators of me, even as I am of Christ." They were men in all respects like ourselves, so that our sloth and cowardice can have no excuse. They form a cloud of witnesses, demonstrating to us, from their own experience, that the practice of Christian perfection is easy and sweet. They will rise up and condemn the wicked at the last day, covering them with inexpressible confusion; "Thou raisest up thy witnesses against me."
There is but one gospel, but one Redeemer and divine Legislator, Jesus Christ, and but one heaven. No other road can lead us thither but that which he has traced out to us: the rule of salvation laid down by him is invariable. It is a most pernicious and false persuasion, either that Christians in the world are not bound to aim at perfection, or that they may be saved by a different path from that of the saints. The torrent of example in the world imperceptibly instills this error into the minds of many, that there is a kind of middle way of going to heaven; and under this notion, because the world does not live up to the gospel, they bring the gospel down to the level or standard of the world. All Christians are commanded to labour to become holy and perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect, and to bear his image, and resemble him by spotless sanctity, that we may be his children. We are obliged by the law of the gospel to die to ourselves by the extinction of inordinate self-love in our hearts, by the crucifixion of the old man, and the mastery and regulation of our passions. It is no less indispensable an injunction laid on us than on them, that we be animated with, and live by, the Spirit of Christ; that is, the spirit of sincere and perfect humility, meekness, charity, patience, piety, and all other divine virtues. These are the conditions under which Christ makes us his promises and enrolls us among his children, as is manifest from all the divine instructions which he has given us in the gospel, and those which the apostles have left us in their inspired writings. Here is no distinction made between the apostles, or clergymen, or religious and secular persons. The former, indeed, take upon themselves certain stricter obligations, as means of accomplishing more easily and more perfectly these lessons; but the law of sanctity and of a disengagement of the heart from the world is general, and binds all the followers of Christ, all who can be entitled to inherit his promises. Now, what marks do we find in the lives of Christians of this crucifixion of their passions, and of the Spirit of Christ reigning in their hearts and actions? Do not detraction, envy, jealousy, anger, antipathies, resentments, vanity, love of the world, ambition, and pride discover themselves in their conversation and conduct, and as strongly as in the very heathens? It is in vain to plead that these are sins of surprise. It is manifest that they are sins of habit, and that these passions hold the empire in their hearts. An interior disposition of charity, meekness, and other virtues would give a very contrary turn to their conversation and behaviour, and would make them like the saints, humble, peaceable, mild, obliging to all, and severe only to themselves.
What, then, is the first duty of one who desires to become a disciple of Christ? This is a most important point which very few sufficiently attend to. The first thing which a Christian i9 bound to study is, in what manner he is to die to himself and his passions. This is the preliminary article or condition which Christ requires of him before he can be admitted into his divine school. For this such a practice of the exterior mortification of the senses is necessary that they may be kept under due government; but the interior denial of the will and restraint of the passions is the most essential part, and is chiefly effected by extirpating pride, vanity, revenge, and other irregular passions, and planting in the heart the most perfect spirit of humility, meekness, patience, and charity.
Can anyone pretend that seculars can be excused from the obligation of subduing their passions, retrenching sin, and aiming at perfection? Are they not bound to save their souls-that is, to be saints? God, who commands all to aim at perfection, yet whose will it is at the same time that to live in the world should be the general state of mankind, is not contrary to himself. That all places in the world should be filled is God's express command; also that the duties of every station in it be faithfully complied with. He requires not, then, that men abandon their employs in the world, but that by a disengagement of heart and religious motive or intention, they sanctify them. Thus has every lawful station in the world been adorned with saints. God obliges not men in the world to leave their business; on the contrary, he commands them diligently to discharge every branch of their temporal stewardship. The tradesman is bound to attend to his shop, the husbandman to his tillage, the servant to his work, the master to the care of his household and estates. These are essential duties which men owe to God, to the public, to themselves, and to their children and families; a neglect of which, whatever else they do, will suffice to damn them. But then, they must always reserve to themselves leisure for spiritual and religious duties; they must also sanctify all the duties of their profession. This is to be done by a good intention. It is the motive of our actions upon which, in a moral and Christian sense, the greatest part, or sometimes the whole, of every action depends. This is the soul of our actions; this determines them, forms their character, and makes them virtues or vices. If avarice, vainglory, sensuality, or the like inordinate inclinations influence the course of our actions, it is evident to what class they belong; and this is the poison which infects even the virtuous part of those who have never studied to mortify their passions.
But slothful Christians allege the difficulty of this precept; they think that perfectly to die to themselves is a severe injunction. God forbid anyone should widen the path which the Saviour of the world has declared to be narrow. It is doubtless difficult and requires resolution and courage. Who can think that heaven will cost him nothing which cost all the saints so much? What temporal advantage is gained without pains? The bread of labourers, the riches of misers, the honours of the ambitious, cost much anxiety and pains; yet, what empty shadows, what racking tortures, what real miseries are the enjoyment which worldlings purchase at so dear a rate! But it is only to our inordinate appetites (which we are bound to mortify, and the mortification of which will bring us liberty and true joy) that the doctrine of self-denial appears harsh. And its fruits in the soul are the reign of divine love; and the sweet "peace of God which passeth all understanding," which springs from the government of the passions, and the presence of the Holy Ghost in the soul, and is attended with a pure and holy joy which fills the whole capacity of the heart, and which the whole world can never take from the servant of God.
1 Ps. lxvii. 36.
2 Rom. viii. 28.
3 Mark xiii. 20.
4 Ps cxxxviii. 16.
5 Apoc. vii. 3, 4, &c.
6 1 Pet. iv. 10.
7 Num. xiii. 34.
8 Num. xiv. 9.
9 1 Cor. xi. 1.
10 Job x. 17.
11 1 Cor. vii. 20; Ephes. iv. 1.
12 Phil. iv. 7.
(Taken from Vol. III of "The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs and Other Principal Saints" by the Rev. Alban Butler.)