Why should our praise and glorification, or even the celebration of this feast day mean anything to the saints? What do they care about earthly honors when their heavenly Father honors them by fulfilling the faithful promise of the Son? What does our commendation mean to them?
The saints have no need of honor from us; neither does our devotion add the slightest thing to what is theirs. Clearly, if we venerate their memory, it serves us, not them. But I tell you, when I think of them, I feel myself inflamed by a tremendous yearning.
Calling the saints to mind inspires, or rather arouses in us, above all else, a longing to enjoy their company, so desirable in itself. We long to share in the citizenship of heaven, to dwell with the spirits of the blessed, to join the assembly of patriarchs, the ranks of the prophets, the council of apostles, the great host of martyrs, the noble company of confessors and the choir of virgins.
In short, we long to be united in happiness with all the saints. But our dispositions change. The Church of all the first followers of Christ awaits us, but we do nothing about it. The saints want us to be with them, and we are indifferent. The souls of the just await us, and we ignore them. Come, brothers, let us at length spur ourselves on.
St Bernard of Clairvaux, Office of Readings, Solemnity of All Saints
Reflection – Happy feast of All Saints, everyone. The world today in Combermere is garbed in festal white, as it seems to have snowed much of the night. It is, seriously, quite a lot of snow out there, although since the temperature is already above freezing, it will probably all melt by noon. Which is too bad, as it will make for a mucky, miry kind of day.
Anyhow. All Saints… I love this reading from St. Bernard which we read every year as part of the office. It is such a clear teaching – the saints don’t need our honor, but we certainly need to honor the saints. We celebrate All Saints Day to lift our minds and hearts out of the worldly muck and mire into this higher realm.
We celebrate the saints so as to stir up in ourselves the desire to become saints. Almost 30 years ago, when I first came to Madonna House at age 19, one of the things that impressed me about the community was that people talked openly about holiness as the actual goal of human life, about the fact that we are all called to become saints, and that in fact, as Leon Bloy wrote, the only real tragedy in life is to not become a saint.
I don’t know about you, but that had not formed part of my education and general cultural formation. And it left a deep impression on me (nothing like getting your mind blown when you’re 19 years old). We all know it, but somehow we all need to keep being reminded of it: the goal of life is not to be wealthy; it is not to be successful in a career; it is not to be famous, beautiful, brilliant; it is not even to have a happy family and be surrounded always by people who love you.
The goal of life is one thing and one thing only and that is the life of heaven. And the life of heaven is the life of the saints. And so this solemnity rolls around each year to help us refocus our attention, to stir up our desire, to get our eyes pointed in the direction we are supposed to be travelling towards.
And while it is, like every religious feast, meant to be principally a day of joy and fun (we’re having a pizza supper, which is a great treat in MH, and an all saints party where people can dress up like their favorite saint), it is indeed meant to raise that question, so disquieting to us: am I heading towards my proper goal? Is my life ordered in such a way that I am moving towards sanctity? Where are my energies going, where my principal focus? Love of God and love of neighbour? Or… something else? As St. Bernard says, we certainly are prone to getting awfully distracted and indifferent about the whole business.
As we see the saints in all their endless variety—teachers, preachers, and servants, nuns in their cloisters and lay people out in the world, martyrs dying in times of persecution and confessors dying after long years of ceaseless toil and labor for God—we do see that the path to sanctity is broad and varied enough for any one of us to find a way on it. And at the same time, it is a narrow path indeed, as Our Lord told us—to receive love and love in return, to receive mercy and be merciful, to care for nothing but this and to put our whole hearts and souls into fashioning our lives into love affairs with God, love poured out for neighbour.
Happy feast of All Saints. May we celebrate them with great joy and gratitude today, and delight in their human variety and charming individuality. And may we join them, simply, so that the party can carry on long into the night, and the day, into the night of this world and the eternal Day of the world dawning on us, alleluia.