Three “Takes” on All Saints Day
Today’s Feast of All Saints is a favorite of mine. I thought I’d share three takes or angles on this beautiful feast and its pastoral applications:
The Personal/Family Angle – I’ve always understood it as a day to remember not only the canonized saints, but all those whose names we either don’t know… or know only privately. There are members of my family I’m convinced have arrived in the fullness of heavenly glory. I can’t praise them from the pulpit. No one will name churches after them, but today, the Lord touches our hearts to ask for their prayers in his heavenly presence. “All you holy men and women of God, pray for us!”
A Day for Urban Ministry – The missal describes today as “the festival of [God’s] holy city, the heavenly Jerusalem, our mother.” So in some senses All Saints Day is a great feast for those who love city life. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to lift the entire population of Washington to heaven? As God’s people in the city, that’s exactly what we are called to do. I’ve begun working with a great group of Catholics called the Downtown Serra Club. Part of Serra International, their mission is to help each other grow in holiness, and – as an act of thanksgiving to God – support the growth of priestly vocations. The Serrans were a big part of our lives as seminarians, so it’s a pleasure to be their chaplain. More than that, though, I’m excited to be reaching out to young professionals in our downtown parishes and offering them “mobile spiritual direction.” Meeting them, literally, where they’re at to talk about what God’s doing in their lives.
A Day for Catholic Aesthetics – Today’s Morning Prayer reading is just two verses from Ephesians 1 (17-18). Paul prays for the Ephesians, “May he who is the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father to whom glory belongs, grant you a spirit of wisdom and insight, to give you fuller knowledge of himself. May your inward eye be enlightened, so that you may understand to what hopes he has called you, how rich in glory is that inheritance his found among the saints.” The verse was so beautiful, that I went to the Bible to read the whole first chapter of Ephesians. Just a few highlights (using the Knox translation of the New Testament):
“[The Father] has chosen us out, in Christ, before the foundation of the world, to be saints…” (Eph. 1:4) Jesus is the Revelation of the Father, the eikon (icon/image) of God, the refulgence of the glory of God, the shinning forth of God… Jesus is, more simply put, the beauty of God. Insofar as we were made in the eikon (image) and likeness of the Father, we were created in light of Christ. Likewise we find re-creation/redemption in him. Insofar as we resemble Christ… insofar as we are beautiful we are saved. All Catholic aesthetics is based on this truth. The saints are those who heroically manifest Christ in the world… they radiate his beauty so clearly. This harkens back to what St. Paul said yesterday to the Romans (8:18), “If creation is full of expectancy, that is because it is waiting of rot sons of God to be made known.” All of creation waits for us to make Christ visible in the world! Beauty is the mission of the Church! It cannot be said often enough.
“So rich is God’s grace, that has overflowed upon us in a full stream of wisdom and discernment, to make known to us the hidden purpose of his will.” (Eph. 1:8) – God’s way is always the way of abundance! of overflowing! It is beyond mere efficiency. Indeed, from the very beginning, the Catechism tells us, “God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life.” (CCC, 1) He didn’t need to make us, he did so as a gratuitous act. Beauty is rarely “useful” or “efficient,” it’s a mark of generosity, of taking things to the next level even though it’s not necessary. Jesus himself says that he told us everything, “that my joy may be yours, and the measure of your joy may be filled up.” (Jn. 15:11) This abundance is on display whenever people marvel at the sheer number of canonized saints… and the fact that we’re still making more!
Finally, Paul identifies his role in this midst of all this… he is in awe: “…I too play my part; I have been told of your faith in the Lord Jesus… and I never cease to offer thanks on your behalf or to remember you in my prayers.” (Eph. 1:15) Encountering beauty engenders awe in the heart of the beholder… which then inspires him to imitate what he has seen… to spread the beauty further. It requires little explanation… no force or coercion… When beauty gets under your skin it is self-perpetuating. This is what Paul experienced… this is evangelization!
Today, pray with those who’ve gone before us. Pray for those in the city who still accompany us, and think on the immense beauty with which the Lord has graced the world. Happy all Saints Day!