As we celebrate today the Solemnity of All Saints, let us take time to reflect on the significance of the saints in our life of faith. Statues, novenas, candles, processions, and various sacramentals related to the veneration of saints abound in our churches and homes, so much so that some accuse us of fanaticism and idolatry.
The devotion to the saints forms part of the popular piety which Pope Francis acknowledges as “a precious treasure of the Catholic Church… [that] manifests a thirst for God that only the poor and the simple can know.” (Evangelii Gaudium, 123)
Why do we honor (or as some misinformed would say, adore) the saints?
To begin with, we do not adore the saints, but God only. We honor the saints because by honoring them, we honor God himself. The saints are marvelous works of God, masterpieces of his grace. As Mary herself recognizes, “The Almighty has done great things for me, holy is his name.”
Secondly, we value the saints because God has given them to be our intercessors. In my homily last Wednesday, the feast of St. Jude Thaddeus, I told the parishioners that I do not know how St. Jude became the patron saint of desperate souls. But I do know that many who had lost hope regained hope when they prayed to St. Jude. For the same reason, the devotion to St. Padre Pio is growing fast in one of our parishes because several parishioners have obtained favors and experienced “little miracles” through the intercession of the saintly friar. The saints are the friends of God, and they are our heavenly intercessors before Jesus, the One Mediator between God and man.
Thirdly, the saints are given us by God to be our inspiration and role models. The important message of today’s feast is the universal call to holiness. We are all called to be holy. Through baptism, we have received the life of God, by which we are incorporated into the Body of Christ, the Church, and become children of God. And because we are God’s children (second reading), we are called to be like God who is holy. Several times in the Scriptures, God tells us, “Be holy, for I am holy.”
The call to be holy is certainly inspiring but equally intimidating. Are we capable of imitating the great saints of the Church? Let me present three young saints who also thought that sainthood was impossible until they learned that with God’s grace it Is attainable by everyone, even by children.
When Dominic Savio first heard from Don Bosco that God wills everyone to be a saint, he could not believe it. Really? Am I called to be a saint? When the message finally sank in, Dominic applied himself fully to becoming one. He quickly changed from a typical lively teenager to a serious little “adult.” He started to fast and to practice extreme bodily mortification. Soon enough, he got sick. It was then that Don Bosco intervened and gave Dominic two valuable tips on how to become a saint: be happy, and do your ordinary duty extraordinarily well. Reason: a saint cannot be sad when he has God in his heart (sanctifying grace); and sanctity consists essentially in doing God’s will, which is manifested in one’s daily duties.
Another saint who shows us that sainthood is attainable in our ordinary life is St. Therese of the Child Jesus. Her Spirituality of the Little Way teaches us that holiness does not consist in doing great things but in doing everything, however little, with love. When we do everything for the love of Jesus, we cannot but do our best.
Finally, we have recently been gifted with the newly beatified Carlo Acutis, who teaches us that to be a saint, we simply have to be who we are and who God wants us to be. Carlo lived the life of a normal millennial teenager, who loved soccer, watched Pokémon, and played PlayStation. Aware of the tremendous power of the internet, he made full use of it to bring Jesus into the digital world. He believed that “everyone is born to be an original, but many people end up dying as photocopies.”
Commenting on Carlo’s words, Pope Francis says, “Imitating the saints does not mean copying their lifestyle and their way of living holiness… you have to discover who you are and develop your own way of being holy… Becoming a saint means becoming more fully yourself.” (Christus Vivit, 162)
As we commemorate All Saints Day, we remember the saints in heaven (first reading) and the saints on earth as well. St. Paul addressed his Christians as the beloved saints of God. Pope Francis speaks of the saints next door who strive to live the beatitudes. (gospel) Perhaps, Mother Teresa says it best when she defines the saints as “sinners who keep on trying.” And try we all must, for “the only tragedy in life is not to become a saint.” (Leon Bloy)