In this midst of what can only be called a calamitous year, and our nation prepares to elect a new president in just 48 hours, the Feast of All Saints appears to remind us of a different set of values, a different set of concerns, a different way of looking at life. Call it the long view. It anticipates the ultimate victory of justice over sin, the end of separation because of conflict, hunger, violence, and disease – those Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse who seem to have been galloping through the world with abandon this year. [See Rev 7:2-4,9-14, 1 Jn 3:1-3, Mt 5:1-12a.]
Sandwiched between (and overshadowed by) Halloween and The Day of the Dead, All Saints Day has receded from public regard in many respects, but it is nevertheless an occasion and a call to celebrate the lives of all those Servants of God whose names and accomplishments may or may not have been noticed in any official way but changed the world.
When recognition does occur, often by the official process of canonization in the Catholic Church, we are able to envision the whole, not only single examples. Many of the saints, no doubt most, are never in fact canonized, but nevertheless belong among that innumerable white-robed throng standing before the throne of God and the Lamb [Rev. 7:9].
This year, as so many of us were cut off from our loved ones, families, and friends by the coronavirus, this must be of some consolation. But it leaves our task unfinished. Today’s readings put that in perspective, and the reading from Matthew’s gospel especially presents the agenda in his compilation of the sayings of Jesus we know as “the Beatitudes.” It is by following the path of faithful witness, compassionate care, mercy, and forgiveness, that we are joined to that vast assembly. The road lies ahead, but today we acknowledge and learn from those who have gone before us and made the path at least a little wider, a little smoother.
One of the more recent candidates for official recognition, Dorothy Day, that cantankerous champion of peace and social justice, was wary of being elevated to that lofty position. “Don’t make me out to be a saint,” she said. “I don’t want to be dismissed that easily.” Like Martin Luther King, Jr., and Oscar Romero, she won’t be much longer, but will soon, it is hoped, assume her place among those recognized by the Church as pioneers and trail blazers. But, as I said once before, “…it is not being recognized, being canonized, that makes people saints. It’s what they have done with their lives that earns them a place of honor on the only list that matters, the much, much greater list known only to God and the blessed saints in heaven. As Meister Eckhart said long ago, “It is not what we do that makes us holy, but we ought to make holy what we do.” [Talks of Instruction, 4] King, Romero, and Dorothy Day are saints not because they strove to be, but because they did what they felt compelled to do as followers of Jesus Christ.