Today (November 1st) we celebrate the Solemnity of All Saints. There are many saints known by name. When I asked our parish school children to name some saints, half of their hands went up immediately. Saints are important to us. St. Francis, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Patrick, St. Elizabeth, St. Anne, and the soon to be canonized Blessed Pope John Paul II.
There are a lot of saints officially recognized by the Catholic Church but there are countless more that we don’t know by name. All who are in Heaven are saints. So today we honor them all.
Our belief in the saints as Catholics is often misinterpreted by non-Catholics. We do not worship the saints. God is the only one we worship. Following the commandment to worship only one God, we venerate the saints. To venerate the saints is to show honor and respect recognizing that they lived their lives in accordance with God’s Will and now enjoy the Kingdom of Heaven.
In today’s first reading , John tells us about his vision of Heaven. There are people of every nation and tongue. All are welcome in Heaven. All can be saints. All should want to be saints.
What does it take to be a saint? In listening to the Beatitudes in today’s gospel, we hear Jesus say “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. The saints are the ones who have been received into the Kingdom of Heaven. Why? Because they were ‘poor in spirit.’ This doesn’t mean that their faith was weak. It may have been but what they did that is right is to recognize that they needed God’s help. They wanted to do good in God’s eyes.
Jesus also tells us “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.” The saints sought to do good. We want to do good but we don’t always. We are not perfect and neither were the saints when they lived on Earth. We must strive to follow Jesus but in the end we realize it is not our own actions that make us worthy for Heaven. It is God who makes us worthy.
In the struggle to live our faith, the saints serve as examples for us of what it means to be Christian. They also serve us as intercessors before God. When we ask saints for help, we are not asking the saint to do a miracle. Only God can make miracles happen. The saints pray for us before God.
Thus, our veneration of the saints is not to try to please them so that they will do things for us. That would be like offering a bribe but what could we possibly bribe the saints with? They are with God. What could we give them that would be worth more than being with God?
So today we honor the example of the saints and ask for their intercession before God that we might have the grace we need to follow Jesus.