Much of this bulletin article is being taken from my homily on All Saints Day two weeks ago. This week our RE program in Osakis is beginning its first Intergenerational class for grade school students and parents. The topic will be saints. The information I am sharing should be a good primer for those classes, as well as informational for everyone.
I will begin with the question, what is a saint? The word saint derives from the Latin word sanctus, which means holy. Becoming holy sounds hard…unreachable…many of us don’t consider ourselves very holy…I don’t. It is part of our Catholic teaching that all of us are called to be saints, what some call “saints in the making.” Each and every one of us has received that call to holiness at our baptism, yet many of us don’t take that call as seriously as we should. My favorite definition of saint is anyone who is in heaven. If you do an internet search for a list of saints, the list is long, but nowhere near either the 144,000 or “the great multitude too numerous to count” John sees in his vision as mentioned in Revelation. But that list of saints is only those deceased who have been declared saints by the church after the church attributes proven miracles granted for someone’s prayers to that saint. Those Saints are what some call Saints with a capital “S”. The church is very thorough about checking out those miracles. Not on the internet search list are those relatives and friends who are also in heaven… sometimes called saints with a small “s”. We hope and assume that number is huge… too many to count.
At the end of the apostle’s creed, we say, “I believe in the holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, etc.…” How often do we actually consider what those words mean? What we call the communion of saints is a rich reality of our faith, our belief that the church Jesus established on earth is and will always be one with the church that exists in heaven. Our faith teaches us that death does not sever any of the bonds that unite those of us on earth to those who are already with Jesus in heaven. That is why it is fitting to pray for the dead in purgatory waiting to enter heaven, and to ask the dead to pray for us. Because of our strong bond in faith, we believe that those who have died continue to be connected with us, concerned about us as we are about them. This leads to our belief that the saints can intercede for us just as we intercede for them. God is the one who answers all our prayers, but just as we ask one another to pray for us in this world, we continue that bond and concern for each other even after death.
During the lockdown I celebrated Mass most of the time to an empty church. That felt awkward until a fellow priest mentioned that the church wasn’t empty during those Masses, it was filled with the saints who are still a part of that one church that exists both on earth and in heaven. Eternity is a strange thing, something we cannot comprehend until we are outside of creation (after death). Each Mass is a celebration of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, but it is not a new sacrifice…Jesus does not feel the pain of his crucifixion again at each Mass. Each Mass is a celebration of the one and same sacrifice that took place on Calvary 2,000 years ago. That is the teaching of the church. The Jews believe similarly about the Passover… every time Passover is celebrated in the present, it is a celebration with the Jews who participated in that one first Passover that took place about 3,000 years ago, and with all those who have participated ever since. Suddenly I didn’t feel alone as I celebrated Mass during the lockdown…it has changed the way I see and appreciate those who have died.
Besides our ability to pray (which means “to beg or ask”) to saints, the saints can be wonderful role models. Very few saints started out being holy. Many of them started out being VERY unholy. In addition to praying to saints to intercede for our needs, learning their stories can be inspirational towards our efforts to become more holy.