First came Jesus whose death on the cross showed the world an image of supreme love. Then came the flood of martyrs in the early church. By the beginning of the 5th century there were so many of them that the church appointed the first Sunday after Pentecost as the feast of holy martyrs. 300 years later, a new chapel in Rome was built to honor all the saints, not only martyrs, but all who lived a life of faith despite persecution and much suffering. Later this feast day was moved to November 1, where it remains today. Because of our Jewish roots, the celebration of the Feast of All Saints has always begun on the eve of the feast. It was called, “all blessed eve, “all hallows eve” or as it is known today, Halloween. Our hallowed eve has lost its religious beginnings, substituting witches, goblins, and superheroes for saints. Sadly, it has also became a commercial enterprise generating over fifty billion dollars in sales each year, and ranks second to Christmas, the most commercialized of all feasts.
As we gather today, we give witness to the crowd of saints who remind us of our calling to be saints. The call to holiness—to be saints is universal, open to everyone. It is a lifetime effort to put aside our interest in the many attractions our culture puts in our way as we move toward a life of holiness. We become encouraged by the many who have chosen to live countercultural lives and achieved saintly status. Their quest was not easy, but their love attracts us to take on their lifestyle. We become intrigued by the way in which ordinary people have become saintly people.
Priest and poet, Fr. Ed Hays reminded us: “Jesus’ earliest followers imitated him long before they worshiped him.” Initially, they didn’t have faith in Jesus, they shared the faith of Jesus. This offers us a tremendous incite as we gather to celebrate the Feast of All Saints. Jesus’ holiness is always a challenge, yet his behavior became the magnet that attracted and continues to attract disciples. Scholars describe this saintly behavior as: “…those who are ‘other,’ individuals different from those around them.” Or, “Our quest to become saintly reflects our relationship to Jesus Christ and what that relationship causes us to do.” Obviously, that relationship gradually shapes us into carbon-copies of Jesus. If ever there was an ‘other’ person who walked the earth, it was Jesus!
This ‘otherness’ is so clearly expressed in today’s Gospel. We are asked to see something many people don’t see. In each of these blessed statements, we move beyond the words of the Gospel, to see the world with far deeper insight than our faithfulness to the ancient commandments of the law. Blessed are the poor, the mourners, the meek, the righteous, the merciful and the clean of heart our Gospel reminds us. What a list to aspire to, and what great challenges to confront, but what a different world this would be if more of us stretched ourselves to attain them.
Today we are presented a portrait of holiness—of Jesus and of the parade of saints that chose to live lives of holiness. Spiritual writer Alice Camille reminds us, “The saints among us do not choose God instead of people, but choose God by choosing to serve people. The saints do not make time for God; all time belongs to God. The saints do not find special moments to pray: All of life is unceasing prayer. The saints do not ‘come into God’s presence’: saints know that God is always present. Sainthood is billed as a heroic, impossible lifestyle. It is heroic, yet very possible, closer to us than we might dare to think” If we look carefully, we’ll find saints, among those who went before us, and those with whom we travel each day. Happy feast day fellow saints!
----Deacon Wilson Shierk