Fr. Michael McGourty is the pastor of St. Peter’s Church in Toronto.
During the month of November, we, the members of the Church on Earth, celebrate the members of the Church in Heaven. We celebrate those who are already in Heaven and we pray for our departed loved ones whom we hope will be admitted to Heaven through God’s mercy. As we do so, we remind ourselves that Heaven is the destiny to which we are also called.
Heaven is our true homeland.
We begin the month of November by celebrating the Solemnity of All Saints — a solemnity so important that we celebrate it even when it falls on a Sunday.
On the Solemnity of All Saints, we celebrate the many men and women of previous generations who were once members of the Church on Earth, who are now members of the Church in Heaven. We celebrate that “great cloud of witnesses,” who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith and who are now members of the Church in Heaven. These saints are the great Christian witnesses who lived their lives on Earth in communion with Christ and who are now alive and well with Him in Heaven for all eternity.
When we think of the saints, we think of those great Christians like St. Pope John Paul II, St. Theresa of Lisieux, St. Marguerite Bourgeoys, the Canadian Martyrs, St. Peter and the other famous saints whom are churches are named after.
Rightly, we can also think of the less famous members in the Church in Heaven, like the holy people in our own families, who have not been declared by the Church to be saints, but who have inspired us by their way of living and communicating the faith.
In the saints we see an example of how we are to live and we are reminded of the fact that Heaven is our true homeland and destiny. St. John Paul II during his lifetime was a great lover of the saints. He canonized so many of them because he believed we need examples of all kinds of saints to remind us that the Christian life is possible for all of us, no matter what our profession or way of life.
As we celebrate the saints, one of the things that we all should remember is that they were once members of the Church on Earth and were very much like each of us.
So often, we think that the saints were these very pious and holy people who floated during their life on Earth. While it is true that some saints, like St. Theresa of Avila and St. Padre Pio, enjoyed some extraordinary experiences in the spiritual life, the majority lived very ordinary and normal lives.
Happily, most saints were ordinary human beings who became extraordinary because they allowed God’s grace to penetrate their human fragility. The Gospels show us a great example of how normal many of the saints who associated with Jesus really were. I am greatly comforted by the fact that in the Gospels the Apostles are always confused about what Jesus is trying to tell them and never seem to get it right. Jesus is constantly having to correct and explain things to them.
Our own parish patron, the Prince of the Apostles, St. Peter, was so human that he is always getting it wrong. Peter denies the Lord three times, takes out his sword as Jesus is being arrested and is always losing his temper. Despite his humanity, Peter’s faith and love of the Lord allows the Lord to penetrate his heart and make him a new creation in Christ.
Through the lives of the saints, we all have examples that allow us to hope that through God’s grace, each one of us can be saved and find our way to our true homeland: Heaven.
After we celebrate the saints on November 1st, we pray for all of our deceased loved ones throughout the rest of November. We ask God, that through His mercy, our loved ones might also be admitted to Heaven and be numbered among the saints. By praying for our loved ones in November, we affirm our Christian belief that Jesus has destroyed death and that our loved ones are alive and well with the Lord.
It is so important to remember that we are still able to express our love for those who have died by praying for them and asking God to show them His mercy. Every time we come to Mass, we offer the sacrifice of Christ’s body and blood in communion with the Church on Earth and the Church in Heaven. In each celebration of the Eucharist, we pray not only for the members of the Church on Earth, but also for our loved ones who have died and who, we pray, are now members of the Church in Heaven through God’s mercy.
If we used to go to Mass with our parents and grandparents who have now passed on to God, we should remember that Mass is the one place that we can still be with them as we are joined to the altar in Heaven in each Eucharistic sacrifice. Every time I offer Mass, I always think of those members of the Church on Earth who were once a part of my earthly journey and I ask God to admit them, as I hope He will one day admit me, to the Kingdom of Heaven.
The readings from the Solemnity of All Saints are truly intended to remind us of this connection that exists between the Church on Earth and the Church in Heaven. For instance, The Beatitudes present us with a word over and over again that we associate with the saints: blessed. The Beatitudes tell us that those who do the will of God here on Earth will be “blessed.” This word “blessed” means to be in God’s presence. When something is “blessed” it is set aside for God. A thing or a person becomes “un-blessed” when it is taken out of God’s presence. The call of the Beatitudes to live a “blessed” life reminds us that we are called to live in God’s presence today so that we might live in God’s presence for all eternity.
One of the things that the readings for this Solemnity of All Saints challenge us to realize is that if we wish to spend eternity with God in Heaven, we are invited to live in communion with God here on Earth. The readings present our life here on Earth as one being united with our life in Heaven. As the psalm states, “Lord, this is the company of those who seek your face,” we are reminded that we are called to live our lives on Earth as though we actually longed to see God’s face today. We are to strive to see God in the way we conduct our affairs and relate to one another.
The name that is given to the saints in Heaven in our liturgy is “blessed.” As the saints are now in God’s presence, they are called “blessed.” The Beatitudes call on us to live in God’s presence today by daring to live the blessed life. That this life is possible for us today through God’s love and mercy is something that we are reminded of each time we come to Mass and come into Christ’s presence at the Eucharist. We are called to be members of the Church in Heaven by living our lives today in communion with Christ. Our Eucharistic assemblies are the company of those who seek to see the face of Christ today. Our hopes are realized in the Eucharist. This realization is expressed in the beautiful words that we say as we gaze on the Body of Christ before we receive Him in the Eucharist:
“Behold the Lamb of God, behold Him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.”
This reflection based on the readings for the Solemnity of All Saints: Revelation 7: 2-4, 9-14; Psalm 24; 1 John 3:1-3; and Matthew 5: 1-12.