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Beyond the Plaster


“A saint is a sinner who keeps trying.” ~ Saint Josemaria Escriva

November 1st is the Solemnity of All Saints, a day in which Catholics honor all those who have entered the Kingdom of Heaven. The idea of “All Saints' Day“ was initially conceived by Pope Boniface IV, who consecrated the Pantheon at Rome to the Virgin Mary and all the Martyrs of the Church back on May 13th in the year 609 AD. The Holy Day itself was eventually established on November 1st by Pope Gregory III in the middle of the 8th Century as a day dedicated to the Saints and their relics.

As previously mentioned, Catholics on this day celebrate all those who have entered heaven, including Saints who are recognized by the Church and those who are not. Of equal if not greater importance is the fact that on this date in 1950, Pope Pius XII formally defined the dogma of the Assumption, declaring that the Blessed Virgin was taken up body and soul into heaven. It is important to point out however that the Assumption was celebrated as early as the 4th Century.

We acknowledge the Church’s doctrine of the Communion of Saints when we recite the Apostles Creed. The fact that we declare in the same breath our belief in “the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting” underscores the supreme importance of this cherished teaching of our Catholic Faith tradition.

By the grace, mercy, and love of God there are countless Saints in heaven who have not been formally canonized, individuals who lived inconspicuous, largely hidden lives of extreme virtue, faithful to the duties of their state in life. They loved God and tirelessly served their neighbor. This Solemnity recognizes them as well. The prayers that they quietly and unceasingly shower upon us are invaluable, and it’s exciting to know that we will one day meet them. Perhaps our prayers for them helped them to attain their heavenly fate?

All Saints ultimately achieve their title however from having been redeemed by the Precious Blood of Jesus Christ, the fruits of whose sacrifice have been applied to our souls through the reception of the Sacrament of Baptism. It is through Baptism that we are freed from the shackles of sin and death and in turn given the freedom to pursue sainthood as children of God.

Each of us are called to pursue our identity as saints and to embrace this identity wholeheartedly, holding back nothing just as Jesus held back nothing in his love for us. The great Mother Angelica would often say “We are all called to be great saints ~ don’t miss the opportunity.” In somewhat similar fashion, Saint Therese of Lisieux would often say “You cannot be half a saint; you must be a whole saint or no saint at all.”

“These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb.” . These are the words uttered by John in his apocalyptic vision and subsequently captured in his mysterious Book of Revelation, proclaimed as part of today’s 1st Reading (Revelation 7:14). Surviving adversity, disaster, and heartbreak. Overcoming sinfulness, addiction, personality flaws and selfishness. This is part of every saint’s bio and journey.

Saint John Henry Newman, coincidentally enough one of the newer members of the Canonized Communion, took umbrage with many of the modern day historians who chronicled the lives of the Saints. Many were quick to deify these individuals as perfect, pure and pristine vessels of holiness, never having had to struggle. Saint John Henry Newman knew better, perhaps due in part to experience. He saw the danger of lazily glorifying these individuals, reducing them to mere plaster statues deserving of our adoration.

But let’s take a moment to go beyond the plaster. We know for instance that during his youth, Saint Camillus de Lellis was a degenerate gambler Saint Jerome was at times an incorrigible grouch Saint Pope Pontian and Saint Hippolytus spent the majority of their adult lives at each other’s throats . And as for Saint Augustine, it would probably be easier to list the illicit things that he didn’t do as opposed to listing those that he did These were not perfect men and women, yet God called them in their sinfulness to serve Him in the Kingdom that is and is to come.

Appropriately enough, every year on the Solemnity of All Saints Day we proclaim Matthew’s Account of the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12). The Catechism succinctly and beautifully states that “the beatitudes depict the very countenance of Jesus Christ” (17:17). The Beatitudes make up in part our Roadmap to Holiness, our Roadmap to Eternal Life When we reflect upon the Beatitudes, we are in essence gazing upon the face of Jesus Christ

Becoming a Saint is quite literally impossible without the grace of God. But we have the benefit of God’s grace, the Sacraments, and yes, today we are reminded that we have the example of the Saints that came before us. So let us today thank God for breathing life into the souls of the Saints. Let us also pay homage and veneration to these Saints, who allowed the Holy Spirit to shape and guide them. As Saint Philip Neri put it, “Never say ‘What great things the Saints do’ but say ‘What great things God does in His saints.’” These are the same things he longs to do in you and I. If but only we would let him.

“Let us all rejoice in the Lord, as we celebrate the feast day in honor of all the Saints, at whose festival the Angels rejoice and praise the Son of God” ~ Amen

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