Solemnity of All Saints
Fr. Miguel Marie Soeherman, MFVA
Homily at the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament, Hanceville, AL
November 1, 2009 — Solemnity of All Saints
The great Feast of All Saints is about celebrating all the canonized saints and all the uncanonized saints as well. Of course, we are very familiar that the canonized saints are those we celebrate throughout the year. Those that we know about after reading their biographies or learning about them from sermons, homilies or other means. These are the saints whom the Church proclaims explicitly and publicly and without error that they are in heaven. They have finished the race; they have fought the good fight. They are victorious and enjoying the Beatific Vision of the Blessed Trinity now.
But there are many more saints in heaven than we can count or find in our liturgical calendar — many more than the number of saints found in both the Ordinary and Extraordinary liturgical calendars put together. St. John the Beloved told us what he saw. He saw a vision of “a great multitude which no one could count from every nation, race, people and town”. Most likely there are many more uncanonized saints in heaven than there are canonized. That’s why we have today’s great Feast of All Saints — to honor not only the canonized but also and especially the uncanonized saints today.
Mother’s personal thought is that the saints who are canonized may be the very least in the Kingdom. We don’t know this. She doesn’t know this, either, but this is her guess. But it is probably a pretty good guess. There are more uncanonized saints than there are saints, and possibly the canonized may be the very least in the Kingdom. Mother thought that some little old washerwoman who had a tremendous love for God may be greater than St. Augustine up there. She thinks we are going to have many surprises when we get there. I think she might be right in this area.
Although no one can count how many saints there are in heaven, the saints come from various nations, races, people, and tongues. And though they have different personalities, characteristics, and backgrounds, there has to be some kind of unique characteristic that’s common to all of them. What’s this unique characteristic common to every saint?
It is certainly not intelligence. We have saints who have great intellectual gifts but you do not have to be a genius to be a saint. We know that this is not the characteristic common to every saint. It literally took a miracle for St. Joseph of Cupertino to pass his theology exams for his ordination. Mother often taught us not to worry about getting all of those letters after our names. She taught us to worry about getting at least the “st.” in front of our names. This is what all of us are to strive for and to keep our focus on.
The unique characteristic common to every saint is not about their good looks, either. St. Rita of Cascia, as many of you know, bore the wounds of Christ on her forehead. The wounds are from one of Christ’s crown of thorns. She bore the open wounds on her face for the last decade of her life. It was said that it was ugly and smelly. Some saints were described as having ugly faces while on earth. Some may have had a nose that was too big, or whatever else is wrong with their looks. Good looks are not the common denominator of every saint.
What about a great personality? Having a great personality is not a common thread, either, and is not found in every saint. St. Padre Pio, who had a true Italian temperament, was harsh and demanding at times even when he was hearing confessions. The first thing we were taught in the seminary in the practicum of confession is that there are three rules that you must follow: Be kind, be kind, be kind. This is the first thing taught when dealing with penitents in the confessional because it is so very important. Again, St. Padre Pio was very harsh and very demanding at times when he was hearing confessions.
Having wealthy success or worldly success is not the common thread, either, found in every saint; we have hermits and beggars. So the unique characteristic common to every saint is not any one of these — intelligence, good looks, great personality, wealth, worldly, or religious success.
It is rather their ability to be joyful and peaceful in the midst of trials and difficulties of their lives. This is common to every saint. This is a very typical pattern we find in the life of every saint. St. John tells us in the Book of Revelation that ”these are the ones that have survived the time of great distress”. Great distress doesn’t always mean red martyrdom; it could be white martyrdom where there is no blood shed for the faith, but just dealing with unjust treatment — all those types are what Bishop Sheen would call white martyrdom. These are very common in the lives of every saint. This is what our Lord means when he said that those who are poor, mourning, persecuted — they are blessed. This is the common road the saints go through in their lives. Of course, it seems endless. It seems that there is not going to be any end to this treatment when they went through it and we know that, too, when we ourselves go through it. We ask “when will this end?” “When will there be justice?” It seems endless when we go through it.
The saints tell us that this is nothing in what we are going through on earth — no matter if it’s the most horrible tragedy any of us experience here (religious or non-religious) it is nothing compared to the glory that the Lord is preparing for us. Nothing. Holiness is a mature friendship with Him so deep and strong that it allows us to experience the joy of eternal life even while still on earth — even in the midst of these trials — the most painful battles of our earthly exile. This is the common thread we find in every saint: their ability to deal joyfully, peacefully even in the midst of life’s trials and difficulties. Of course, what makes it possible for them to do this is because of their fidelity and union with Jesus Christ, their Best Friend — the One who would never betray. They know that they have nothing in this world, even considering what they had. Some saints were very rich and provided for the poor and for others who may have needed their assistance. But considering even what they had, these possessions were nothing in comparison to have Jesus as their Best Friend. Again, the common thread we find in every saint is their ability to deal with life’s trials and difficulties even with peace and joy in the midst of these challenges. This is because God is their portion. He is their inheritance and their total focus. They know God loves them and they love Him and they love their neighbor no matter what. This is what Mother said, too: “A saint is someone who loves God above all things and loves his neighbor with that same love — with a holy, deep, persevering love.” Mother said that “being a saint is being who you were meant to be: a frail human being keeping the commandments. It is loving when you are not loved in return. It’s being patient when you want to hit someone on the head. It is loving your family as they are, not as you want them to be. It is not letting the disappointments in your life crush you. The challenge of Christianity is having fortitude in times of suffering and to stand for the truth even if you stand alone. It is to be undeterred by obstacles. It is to know that there is a big world out there and you are a weak, little person. But God is looking for weakness so that His power can be manifest. He needs you and me to manifest His power and glory.”
Our Holy Father said that “holiness demands constant effort, but it is possible for everyone because rather than a human effort it is first and foremost a gift of God.” Holiness is a gift from God. Then he asked “how we can become holy like these saints when they were living their life on earth.” Our Holy Father said “to be a saint requires neither extraordinary actions or works nor the possession of exceptional charisms. Those are not required to be holy. First of all, it is necessary to listen to Jesus and to follow him without losing heart when faced by difficulties. Like the grain of wheat buried in the earth — those who trust and love Him sincerely accept dying to themselves. Indeed he knows that whoever seeks to keep his life for himself loses it. Whoever gives himself loses himself and in this very way finds life.” He goes on by explaining the Church’s experience in history. History shows that all forms of holiness, even if it follows different paths: the path of the priesthood, the path of the consecrated life, contemplative life, the married or widowed life — it always passes through the way of the Cross. It always goes through this way of self denial. This is the common thread that I’ve been talking about. He said the biographies of the saints described men and women, who docile to Divine Plan, sometimes faced unspeakable trials, sufferings, persecution, and martyrdom — white or red. They persevered in their commitment despite all these challenges in life.
If we give our lives to our Lord by following wherever He leads us, by doing whatever He asks, by accepting or embracing what He offers us in our life as hard as it may be, He will transform us into the saints He meant us to be. He will teach us the experience and joy of those who trust in God. Because only He can give that true joy that the world cannot give. May all the saints inspire and strengthen all of us to be the saints we were meant to be.