Octave of All Saints’ Day 2021

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

My Beloved in Christ Jesus, blessings, and peace as we celebrate in our Mass today the Octave of All Saints’ Day. We have translated the celebration of All Saints’ Day to the following Sunday, the Seventh of November, because there would have been no one here to do an All Saints’ Day High Mass on Monday the First. Nevertheless, in the Western Church, the day set aside for the commemoration of all the Saints in Christ Jesus has been the First of November since the time of Pope Gregory III in 731 A.D. The occasion was an oratory that the Pope delivered in Old Saint Peter’s Basilica in support “of all the relics of the Holy Apostles and of all the Saints, the Martyrs and Confessors, and of all the just made perfect who are at rest throughout the world.” Today, historians usually associate Pope Gregory’s speech with the promotion and adoration of relics, which were increasingly being emphasized in liturgical worship as a way of refuting iconoclasm. There is a deeper spiritual insight here, though, which is more timeless than the Eighth Century dispute over the systematic destruction of icons in the Byzantine East. The Pope referred to the “just made perfect who are at rest throughout the world.” Often, when we think upon the lives of Saints, we focus on their spiritual exploits while still alive, or on a particularly maudlin detail about their martyrdom. There is Saint Denis, the first Bishop of Paris, who is decapitated along with two other Christian Saints. The story is that he picked up his own head and walked with it several miles to where a Benedictine Abbey now resides.  Then, there is Saint Brigit of Kildare, a chaste woman known throughout her life as a healer. The story is that a man came to her with a story of woe. His wife, he said, no longer would sleep with him, as the love of youth had gone out of their marriage. Brigit blessed water for him, and told him to put it in the food and drink at home and on their bed. Well, sure enough, his wife could not keep her hands off of him, and when the man was called away to sea, his wife pursued him even to the point of walking into the sea. These and other hagiographic tales likely are as much fantasy as reality, and yet they are not really all that different than those early American myths that serve to remind us of the pristine beauty of Pocahontas, the unswerving honesty of George Washington, or the virtually superhuman daring and strength of the young Abraham Lincoln. In these myths are kernels of truth – namely, that the lives remembered were extraordinary, and that sometimes God sets aside the least likely heroes to be His most notable instruments of grace. Still, notwithstanding the towering examples offered us all in how these Saints lived, what the Pope said back in 731 A.D. is even more important: “the just made perfect who are at rest throughout the world.” No matter what a Saint does while alive, no matter how heroic his death may have been, that fails in comparison to the work God performs on the just after they have died and risen again in Our Lord. When we pray with the Church Triumphant, with the faithful who have passed on already; when we adore the relics of Saints; or when we venerate the images of Saints passing through the generations as icons, we are not so much commemorating their past spiritual trials or acts of heroism as we are acknowledging in prayer how those Saints continue to live with us and to guide us deeper into Christ Jesus. What matters is not so much who they were then, but who they are today and going forward. They are the just made perfect so that they may pray for us to be made perfect too. They are at rest throughout the world so that they may lead us out of this fallen world, this world in which deep and abiding rest is simply not possible, and into the peace and the joy of the world to come. The hagiographic myths surrounding their lives really are meant to tell us more about ourselves than about them. Yes, they were heroes while alive, exemplars of chastity, or courage, or steadfastness in faith, but what matters now is that these stories are meant to tell us how far removed we are from their examples of blessedness and to inspire us to do so much more in following Our Lord’s path to His Father’s Kingdom. The Saints care not that we look up to them, except to the extent that venerating them may deepen our own resolve to bring Christ Jesus into our lives. The Saints have their incorruptible crowns, and so they have no need for whatever glory we may bestow upon them. All they want is for us to learn something from their lives, or to be touched by something they said or did, so that little by little our dark and twisted souls blossom into God’s light. They are aiding in the seeding and in the cultivating of God’s New Garden of Eden, and we are the flowers just starting to open up to the sun in this unimaginable paradise. The goal is that we may bloom fully into fellow Saints and then take up our plows in this eternal garden. What matters is the work to be done, and it is in that vein that we should commemorate the examples of the blessed who came before us.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Published by Michael Sean Erickson

I write, act, and produce films in Los Angeles. Everything else is conjecture.

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