In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ Jesus, blessings, and peace, as we are assembled on this day to celebrate All Saints’ Day. Though traditionally celebrated on the First of November, we have translated All Saints’ Day to today, the Seventh of November, because there would have been nobody here to do a proper High Mass for the occasion last Monday. In the end, as in all things, we can do only what we can do. Nevertheless, it is good to remember that All Saints’ Day rests in between All Hallows Eve or Halloween on the Thirty-First of October and All Souls’ Day on the Second of November. Going back to the early Celtic Church in what is now Great Britain, people would assemble in nighttime vigils on All Hallows Eve to pray for protection from evil spirits and to prepare themselves spiritually for the Days of the Dead as the three days of devotions came to be called. They would dress up in costumes representing either Christian Saints from the past or devils and demons, and then they would reenact the ongoing struggle between good and evil in our fallen world. The theatricality of All Hallows Eve celebrations clearly set the stage for our modern-day commercialized Halloween, and the much deeper insight from those bonfire vigils is as relevant today as then. Notwithstanding Our Lord’s triumph over sin and death on Easter Sunday, until His Second Coming we here on Earth shall remain at war with those Powers and Principalities literally hell bent on tempting us into sin and despair. The devil wants to destroy as many souls as he can, but he has a special eye for those trying to follow Christ Jesus on the road to salvation. The road is bearable, for Christ Jesus has done already the heavy lifting that had to be done for that road even to exist at all, and yet the devil remains off to the side and in the shadows trying his best to lure us into the thicket of prickly shrubs and weeds. All Hallows Eve reminds us that he is there. We are guilty enough of our own sins, but the devil augments and spreads the ramification of our sins far and wide. He spreads the disease in the hopes that every bit of waywardness on our parts may be the occasion for a pandemic of waywardness. His is a futile effort, for the Resurrected Christ Jesus is and will remain victorious, and yet we may presume that, if anything, the futility of the devil’s treachery has made him that much madder and more desperate in the pursuit.
Our awareness of the devil’s game leads us into All Saints’ Day; for if there is one character trait that unites all Christian Saints, no matter how they may differ from one another and from all of us in their great examples of chastity, courage, or steadfastness in faith, it is their clearheaded, honest, and frank appraisal of the fallen world in which we live. Saints are realists. If they leave the world for a monk’s cell or a hermitage, it is not to avoid reality but to confront it head on in a manner that subdues as much as possible the lies and the distractions of the world. If they go to live among the poorest of the poor, the diseased, and the despised, it is not to avoid reality but to confront it head on in the hardship and persecution that that kind of life invites. In the Gospel reading for today, we hear Our Lord proclaiming the Beatitudes: Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth, and so forth. The focus appears to be on their future rewards: They shall be comforted. They shall inherit the earth. And yet also notice that they are blessed now, today, notwithstanding what reward is still to come. The blessedness is in the struggle right now, even before the reward is realized. The blessedness is in the faithfulness right now, even when at present faithfulness to Christ Jesus in our fallen world pretty much guarantees nothing but oppression of one sort or another. The Saints are blessed not because they lived for their future rewards, but because in different ways they died to the world and lived in and for Christ Jesus. For the Saints, Heaven begins here on Earth in their life in Christ Jesus and continues into the afterlife. For the Saints, Heaven is persevering for Christ Jesus notwithstanding all the slings and arrows that the devil tosses at them. Consider what Saint Paul says in his Second Epistle to the Corinthians. He lists the ways he has been persecuted by the world on account of his own faithfulness to the Lord: He has received lashes, been beaten with rods, stoned, shipwrecked, put in danger by robbers, Gentiles, and Jews. He has had to endure toil and hardship, hunger and thirst, many sleepless nights in cold and exposure. Yet, he describes himself as “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” For Saint Paul, his sorrow for Christ Jesus is his joy. His persecution for Christ Jesus is his salvation. His slow and tortured death for Christ Jesus is his eternal life. Christ Jesus begins his ministry by proclaiming: “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” He is not saying that Heaven is in the future. Nor is He saying that it is somewhere else. It is here, and it is right now. Christ Jesus is Heaven on Earth, and those who are reborn into His life are reborn into His Heaven on Earth. The Saints recognize this, and so for them so long as they are with Christ Jesus everything that may happen to them is Heaven on Earth and an occasion for joy. This does not mean that they do not experience sorrow, or fear, or loss, just as we all do from time to time. The Saints are as human as the rest of us. Rather, what this means is that the Saints can see better than the rest of us that the sorrows, or fears, or losses of the moment are just part of the Cross that we bear in fidelity to Our Lord. Each hardship is another thrust of the hammer into the nail. Each spasm of pain is another stab into the forehead from the crown of thorns. As we suffer for Christ, we become more like Christ; and the more we become like Him, the more we can start to see that the hardship and the pain of this world is nothing in comparison to the eternal life which, even now, we are starting to experience in Our Lord. If All Hallows Eve reminds us that the devil lies in wait ready to attack us, All Saints’ Day reminds us that we can find joy in our struggle for the faith and that, as we become more like Christ, the snares of the devil will be less harmful to us.
And then there is All Souls’ Day. This is when the Church prays for the faithfully departed and, in particular, for their continued growth in the faith in the afterlife. There is the Church Militant, the faithful still alive, and there is the Church Triumphant, the faithful who have died and are in Heaven. If as we have seen Heaven begins in this lifetime, when we give ourselves to Our Lord, and continues into the next lifetime, then there is no firm line dividing the Church Militant from the Church Triumphant. We can pray with the Saints in Heaven, and they can pray for us, for in Christ Jesus the Church Militant and the Church Triumphant are One Church. In Christ Jesus, the Saints abide with us, and we abide with them. If we fail to see this, then that is only because we are blinded by our own sins. Purge away the sins, grow more into the faith, in this lifetime and in the lifetime to come, and we shall see how all along we were always with Him and He with us on the way to the Father’s Kingdom. We shall see that when we were praying for the faithfully departed in fact we were praying with them. Death is real, and the sting of death hits us all hard in one way or another, but death cannot keep us from the ones we love. Death has no place in God’s Heaven, and since in Christ Jesus the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, death cannot defeat our capacity for love and joy, here and now, even with those who have died and left us alone in this world. If All Hallows Eve reminds us that the devil lies in wait, and if All Saints’ Day reminds us that there is joy whenever we may struggle for Christ Jesus, All Souls’ Day finishes the three days of devotion by reminding us that the hardest weapon the devil has at his disposal, namely, death, is not enough to keep us from Christ Jesus and from the relationships we have so loved and cherished. So be of good cheer. The victory is at hand. We need only to abide in this victory which is the Resurrection of Our Lord and the Communion of the Saints alive in Him.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.