All Saints Day, 2021

Fra Angelico's painting Forerunners of Christ with Saints and MartyrsFra Angelico: Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs

Homily for All Saint Day 2021

As every year during autumn, and as you can see this year a bit earlier than usual, because on the last day of October, instead of the first day of November, we celebrate All Saints Day. Very often, when we think about holiness, we probably imagine all sorts of works of art, paintings, stained glass windows and statues that we may encounter in many magnificent cathedrals, churches and small chapels. Also, in our church we can find at least a few saints such as: Our Lady, whom we beautifully call the Queen of all saints; St Edward and St Faustina on the sanctuary; St Peter and St Paul on the balcony upstairs; St Christopher on the side; St Joseph above the confessional box and also at the back of the church, next to the baptismal font; and many others in the sacristy. I don’t know about you, but from my childhood my first association with the words: ‘holiness’ or ‘saint’ were different women and men with golden halos over their heads.

Very often during the liturgical year we commemorate and venerate individual saints who have achieved holiness. Many of them lived and died hundreds of years ago, but also recently even in the 21st century, so theoretically and practically they could be our grandparents, parents, brothers and sisters or friends. Some of them were very gifted with spiritual and supernatural gifts, others dedicated their lives to God and to the Church as martyrs, courageously defending Christian values or perhaps the freedom of the Church during the reformation or during many persecutions. Today the Church reminds us once again of the examples of many saints, and I think none of us would be able to remember all their names. The Litany of the Saints is very long and needs updating from time to time. Also, in today’s first reading, we have heard of: a large number, impossible to count, of people from every nation, race, tribe and language… As you know, some saints are very popular, some of them were popes, bishops or kings like Saint Edward – patron of this church. But today’s Feast wants to remind us of something else, that saints are also ordinary people who lived among us. Perhaps not all of them were very gifted, outstanding or charismatic people, and perhaps most of them never achieved any fame and popularity. Perhaps their lives were never marked by any supernatural gifts such as revelations and miracles. But they experienced and struggled with many weaknesses and temptations as we do every day, but most importantly, they tried and did their best to be: poor in spirit; gentle; hungry and thirsty for what is good, right and just; merciful; pure in heart, peacemakers, and so on. All of them tried to understand and implement into their lives everything that Jesus says today in the Gospel. The eight beatitudes or eight blessings – they are like eight keys that are absolutely fundamental on our faith journey and on our path to holiness. They are like a wonderful remedy for our selfishness and many other obstacles we may encounter on our long and sometimes very difficult way to heaven.

I remember Pope Francis once said something very interesting about holiness. He said: Holiness of life is not the privilege of a chosen few – it is the obligation, the call, and the will of God for every one of us. There is something else worth mentioning today and something that we must not forget on All Saints’ Day because it is actually the essence of this great feast. This very solemn day draws our attention to one important truth of our faith, which we profess every Sunday, when we say: I believe in the communion of Saints. What does this mean for us? It means a lot; it means we are not alone as individuals and also as a Church community. We have a really strong army to always stand by our side. We have a really powerful army to fight on our side in our spiritual battle against the forces of evil, praying for us, supporting and helping us on our journey to heaven. As Saint Teresa of Calcutta once said: If I am ever a saint, I will constantly help those who are in darkness. I will be absent in Heaven – to bring light to those who are in darkness, that is those who experience any kind of hardships on earth.

Finally, I would like to recall one person who is very special to me, blessed Carlo Acutis, who lived a very short life, only 15 years, and died of leukemia in 2006. His whole life can be very inspiring, mainly for the younger generation, but not only for them. In his diary we can find something very interesting, especially when he mentions his preparation for confirmation: Before I started preparing for Confirmation, I didn’t have a strong relationship with the saints. They all seemed inaccessible and mysterious to me – locked behind a stained-glass window, hanging high above my adolescent head. Their job was to be saints and my job was to be me. I have never felt a call to holiness, and never considered the possibility that living saints just walk among us. When I had to choose a patron saint for the sacrament of Confirmation, the list of saints I knew a lot about was very short. Finally, after a long search, I chose St. Nicholas. Reading about him on the Internet, I was touched by the image of St. Nicholas, who anonymously gave coins to those in need.

In the book: My Life with the Saints, Fr James Martin the Jesuit wrote that: none of us is to be Teresa of Lisieux, Pope John XXIII or Thomas More. We are to be ourselves, and we are to let God work through our individuality and through our own humanity. Hundreds of beatifications and canonizations that have taken place in so many countries in the world – some of them far away in the Vatican in St Peter’s Square but also here in England – all of them give us a very simple message and encouragement that each of us can be happy, each of us can be blessed and each of us can be a saint. Let us conclude our reflection with the prayer that we listened to at the beginning: Almighty ever-living God by whose gift we venerate in one celebration the merits of all the Saints, bestow on us, we pray, through the prayers of so many intercessors, an abundance of the reconciliation with you, for which we earnestly long. Amen.

Fr Gregory