On Saturday we celebrate the great solemnity of All Saints. What do we celebrate?
First, we celebrate hidden saints, and the distinction between a public life and a hidden one. After their founder, St. Bruno, the Carthusians hermits don’t have canonized saints. That is not because there are no Carthusian saints in heaven. To the contrary, we can assume that their intense life of prayer, their uniquely total consecration to Christ, has produced thousands of saints.
But it is the nature of some vocations to be hidden. In the same way, Catholic motherhood is a pretty intense school of sanctity. But it’s the nature of motherhood – in fact, it’s part of the holiness of motherhood – that most of its work goes unnoticed, given over as it is only to children who mostly aren’t paying attention.
The same is true of the poor, including the homeless, those who suffer mental illness, menial laborers, and the abused. These are all paths to holiness, straight ways, like the Carthusian vocation, to heaven, for those who embrace them. But they are paths to holiness precisely because they are ways of being forgotten, of learning to find all our identity in Christ, and not in human glory.
Most of the canonized saints are powerful (kings and queens) and public (popes, bishops, and members of religious orders). The reason for that is not that these are the unique ways to sanctity – if anything, power is a hindrance. Rather, it is because the sanctity of these figures is seen.
One of my favorite sections of Vatican II is Lumen Gentium’s section on Religious Life, which emphasizes that the difference is not that they are more holy, but that they wear their holiness on their sleeves, so as to remind all to be holy.
On All Saints, remember that holiness goes beyond those who are seen, to a countless gathering of unseen saints.
An interesting corollary: we do not celebrate a feast of “all are saints” – just as Vatican II’s teaching on the “universal call to holiness” is not a teaching on “universal holiness.” We celebrate All Saints to remind us that all are not saints: but many of the saints go unnoticed. What a lovely devotion: to the unnoticed and unnamed saints.
A second way of looking at All Saints is the diversity of the saints. Each saint deserves his own look as an individual, and so we give them separate days, separate opportunities to glance at their specialness.
But now and then – at least once a year – we do well to put them side by side, just to notice who spectacularly different they are. John Paul II, Padre Pio, and Mother Teresa: alike in their total devotion to Jesus, alike in many respects. But what different ways of sanctity. What different ways of carrying the cross. What different ways of embracing the poverty of Jesus. What different ways of giving their life to the Church.
And these are three saints from one century, and they are all from Catholic parts of Europe. Add in Elizabeth Ann Seton, the North American Martyrs, Kateri Tekakwitha, and John Neumann. They only span three states – Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New York. But what different flavors of sanctity!
All Saints is a reminder to us, not only that we are called to be holy though we may never be noticed, but also that we are called to the holiness of our particular state in life. I am not called to be a holy Jesuit missionary, nor a holy Mohawk-Algonquin Indian. I am called to live the love of Christ in all the particularities of my own vocation.
Finally, All Saints calls us to envision the heavenly city, where this great diversity of saints stand shoulder to shoulder in praise of the Lamb.
This is the truest image and exemplar for the communion of the Church. It is a communion, first of all, in love of Christ. Like the saints in the heavenly Jerusalem, the Church is not bound together by sociology or by programs. They are bound together because they are bound to Christ.
It is a communion in sanctity. The saints are fabulously diverse, but as they stand together before the throne, they are instantly recognizable to one another, all living the same consecration in all their myriad ways.
And it is a communion of friendship, loving one another with the passion that comes from the love of Christ. That is what the Church is meant to be.
All Saints is the ultimate image of the Church.
How does your vocation call you to a holiness distinct from the other saints?