All Saints Day and the Universal Call to Holiness
The Solemnity of All Saints, which we celebrate on Monday, Nov. 1, should give us great hope! The saints show us that despite what we might think, holiness is possible for everyone. The saints we celebrate are not just symbols or unrelatable beings. Among the saints in heaven are some whom we have known. All of them were real people who lived real lives on this earth. They experienced the daily toil of living, including the successes and the failures, the joys and the sorrows, the pain and the celebration. They were all ordinary human beings – ordinary human beings who sometimes did extraordinary things but mostly who did ordinary things with extraordinary love. They were open to God working in them and through them.
The point of All Saints Day is that we celebrate those who have won the race, who have kept the faith and who have done what every single one of us is longing to do: to see the face of God.
Fifty-seven years ago this month, Pope Paul VI promulgated the document, “Lumen gentium.” This Second Vatican Council document was issued on Nov. 21, 1964 by Pope Paul VI after the bishops who were assembled at the Council approved it by a vote of 2,151 to 5. It is one of our greatest treasures in that it reminds us what the Church has always believed and taught: we are all called to holiness; we are all called to be saints.
“… in the Church, everyone whether belonging to the hierarchy, or being cared for by it, is called to holiness . . . This holiness of the Church is unceasingly manifested, and must be manifested, in the fruits of grace which the Spirit produces in the faithful; it is expressed in many ways in individuals, who in their walk of life, tend toward the perfection of charity.” (Lumen gentium, 39)
All people – women, men, young, old, pope, bishop, businesspeople, legislators, those with no money and those with immense wealth – every person in every place and in every time, is called to live a life of holiness. As Pope Francis told us in his Nov. 1, 2019 Angelus address, “holiness is the common vocation of the disciples of Christ.”
While holiness can be lived in a monastery, for most people it will be lived by changing diapers, driving the kids to school, dealing with teenage angst, paying bills, repairing a broken car or a leaky roof, experiencing sickness and deaths, growing in relationships, and struggling with faith. It is in these places that we live and it is in these places that we are called to be holy.
Because we are all different, holiness will look different for each of us. What we share in common with one another and with all the saints in heaven is the way in which we seek to live our call to holiness – by trying in every moment to cooperate with God’s will and to allow God to act through our words and deeds. We live out the call to holiness by serving our neighbors with great love and giving glory to God in everything. The saints teach us that to see the face of God for all eternity means to have seen the face of God in our brothers and sisters here and now. We are called to be saints in this moment and in this place by choosing love over and over again.
As Pope Francis said in that same November 2019 Angelus address, “the memory of the Saints leads us to raise our eyes to Heaven: not to forget the realities of the earth, but to face them with greater courage, with more hope.”
Saints are glimpses of what God is like and what we are called to be. The saints show us that holiness is achievable but that it is not achieved in isolation. Living a life of holiness is only possible with the grace of God and our free response to it. God does not call us to something that he will not help us achieve.
In celebrating the Solemnity of All Saints, we celebrate all of those individuals who have been officially recognized by the Church as saints. But we also celebrate all those whose names will never be on a holy card and who will never be named the patron of any cause. And we are filled with hope because they witness to us that holiness, being a saint, is not inaccessible to us. Holiness is the beautiful destiny that God intends for everyone.
Most Reverend William F. Medley
Diocese of Owensboro
Originally printed in the November 2021 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.