Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Harvest Feast

The work of the theologian is secondary with regard to the real experience of the saints. Without this reference point, without the deep anchoring in such an experience, his work becomes detached from reality. This is the humility demanded of the theological… without the realism of the saints, without their contact with the reality of which theology speaks, it generates into an empty intellectual game and also loses its scientific character.

Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures, 109

Reflection -  Well, I went looking for something on the saints for today, and this is what I found. Happy All Saints Day! This truly is one of the great feasts of the Church year, ranking in the highest order of solemnity, a true completion of the Lent-Easter-Pentecost cycle. Historically it was celebrated the Sunday after Pentecost (it still is there in the Eastern calendar), and was only moved to November 1 for practical reasons. Pilgrims would come to Rome in great numbers for the feast, and the food resources of the city were inadequate to provide for the crowds.

So it got moved to November, when the harvest was in. And indeed, this is in a sense the great harvest feast of Christianity, isn’t it? The feast of the fruition of the Paschal Mystery in the life of humanity. The feast of the Holy Spirit, given in Pentecost, received in the lives of the saints. Here in the dreariest, greyest time of the year (as I write this, the remains of Sandy are soaking into the cold Canadian earth) a light shines forth, the promise of an eternal spring of new life and summer of splendor and glory. And this light is the light of Christ dwelling in and shining forth from the saints of God.

The passage from Ratzinger brings this forth quite profoundly and beautifully. Essentially, the saints are what make Christianity not an abstract idea or theory. We can talk about love, about service, about prayer, about obedience, about death to self, about God, about Jesus. We can talk and talk and talk and talk. Some of us do, quite a bit (ahem).

But if there’s no actual holiness, it’s all just talk, empty talk, pious blather, ‘an empty intellectual game.’ It is the saints who translate all this talk into a radiant reality, who verify the truth of what we say we believe.

I have had the great privilege and joy of knowing a few people I would not hesitate to call saints. I’ve blogged about them before, various members of Madonna House who have truly radiated the life of Christ for me. It’s one of the fringe benefits of hanging out in a place like MH—you get to see the reality, not just the theory of the Gospel.

But you know, I’ve also had the even greater privilege of seeing the first stirrings of sanctity, the hesitant early efforts, the hard painful slogging through the via purgativa, the touches of grace and mercy at work in the souls of many, many more people. Sanctity in its fullness is a precious and rare thing, but the beginnings of sanctity, the first flowering of the human person in the grace of God—this is not rare at all. And it is itself a beautiful thing to behold.

God is continually opening up the reality of his love and the truth of his Gospel to every one of us, to every human person. Saints may be rare birds, but saints-in-the-making are thick on the ground, and not just in a place like Madonna House. And so I would suggest that this concrete truth that Ratzinger writes about, this real experience of God that the saints have and which alone makes theology a credible exercise, while perhaps present in the saints in a pronounced and transparent fashion, is not entirely strange, not wholly unfamiliar to the rest of us.

The saints make God believable, show us that the Gospel works, to put it simply. But each of us, as we strive today to hear and respond to the voice of God and his grace, are becoming saints, too. We are showing, too, that it’s all real, it all works, and that the path of God is the path to happiness and joy and peace.
We may or may not be quite there yet (most of us, not), but we can still testify that we’re on the way, and that the way itself is a good thing, a beautiful thing. Something worth living for, something worth giving our life for, something worth dying for. And that’s how we become the saints of God the world so badly needs right now.


  1. "there is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun" Thomas Merton from Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

    Thank you for these encouraging words..

    Happy Feast to you!

    1. God bless you - thanks! I love that quote from Merton. We are all so much more beautiful than we imagine.


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