Homily on the Feast of All Saints
Feast of All Saints
1 November 2023
Auferte gentem perfidam
credentium de finibus,
ut unus omnes unicum
ovile nos Pater regat.
Drive from the flock, O Spirit blest!
The false and faithless race away;
That all within one fold may rest,
Secure beneath one Shepherd’s sway.
Hymn. Placare Christe Servulis
The Feast of All Saints is a special solemnity: in this feast we celebrate those who have gone before us to the Heavenly Jerusalem with the sign of faith. Vidi turbam magnam, quam dinumerare nemo poterat – I saw a great crowd, whom no one could count – Saint John writes in the Book of Revelation (Rev 7:9). He tells us of the vision of the immense host of Saints, ex omnibus gentibus, et tribibus, et linguis – from every nation, tribe, and tongue – clothed in the white garment of Grace, adoring the Majesty of God together with the myriad of Angels, the elders and the four winged creatures. This apocalyptic scene, as terrible as the place where the Lord, the God of armies in battle array, sits, was often depicted in the rounded apse of ancient churches, not only to remind us of the privilege of being counted amongthe number of signates – those who are marked – but also to warn us of the misfortune of being excluded from it for eternity. Turning towards the liturgical west – which was then in the direction of the main entrance of the church – and then to greet the Christus Oriens who returns in glory, the faithful could contemplate the scene of the Last Judgment, in which Christ in majesty welcomes the elect into the glory of Paradise and condemns the reprobate to the fires of Hell. The Angels welcome the holy souls into the heavenly light, while the monstrous demons drag the damned into the unquenchable fire. These were raw, true images that were meant to arouse in those who looked at them the holy fear of God and His chastisement, but at the same time they encouraged those who lived daily in His presence and sought to sanctify themselves.
Today, visions of hell are associated with the pagan rituals of Halloween, during which horror, monstrosity, and death become something to be laughed at, which can even be tempting, sought after, or preferred to boring beauty, to life. And what creeps into our society today as a joke actually accustoms us to everything that characterizes the kingdom of Satan.
Here then are the two cities: the civitas Dei, the heavenly Jerusalem, with the myriad of saints in adoration of the Most Holy Trinity, and the civitas diaboli, the infernal Babel in self-adoration. And just as today we honor all the saints of all times and in every part of the world who have passed into eternity, so we must think of those who here and now fight their daily battle in fidelity to the Lord, and whom Saint Paul likewise calls saints. The determination of these good and generous souls is nourished by the example of our comrades-in-arms, who have gone before us and who today intercede for their friends on earth and for those in Purgatory.
Today we celebrate the Communion of Saints, that consoling Mystery of our holy Religion, for which there is a reciprocal communication of thanksgiving among the members of the Mystical Body, as in a spiritual circulatory system that irrigates and nourishes all the organs with the same blood. Thanks to this Communion of Saints, every prayer, every good deed, every penance, every fast constitutes a more or less substantial treasure that we can give back to the Lord, in reparation for our sins, for those of other living persons or as suffrage for the dead. Tomorrow, on the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed, we will fulfill our profession of faith in the Communion of Saints by dedicating the official and solemn prayers of the Church for the suffrage of our dead, so that they may join our mutual friends in Paradise to enjoy the beatific vision. And they, from Paradise, pray for us on earth and also for those in Purgatory. And the souls in Purgatory pray for us. It is a Communion of graces that is added to the immeasurable treasure of the infinite merits of Our Lord Jesus Christ, acquired through His Redemptive Sacrifice.
And all of us, despite the multiplicity of nations, cultures and languages, have received from the Lord the garment of grace with which to present ourselves at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. Let us consider what a privilege is granted to us, without any merit of our own, what our gratitude to the Lord should be, and how it should be translated into a coherence of life and a daily witness of faith. And if we have soiled this garment with sin, let us remember that we do not know when we will be called to present ourselves before Our Lord: let us therefore ask the Blessed Virgin to grant us the grace of a holy death and the consolation of the presence of a priest in our last moments on earth; and let us not put off making a good Confession if we find ourselves in a state of grave sin.
This feast, in which we celebrate our friends and brothers who have followed Christ as their God, Lord, and King, cannot fail to spur us all to a sincere examination of conscience. We must not limit ourselves to avoiding sin: we are called to make the talents bear fruit, to sow the seed in fertile soil, to cast the nets at the Lord’s command. In short, we are called to the imitatio Christi, to follow Christ and imitate Him, knowing that a disciple is not superior to the teacher, nor a servant superior to his master (Mt 10:24). This has been done by all those who, down the centuries, have participated in the holy competition, have reached the finish line and have kept their Faith (2 Tim 4:7), according to the simile of St. Paul. Avoiding living in mortal sin will save us from damnation, but it will not spare us the torments of Purgatory, and they will be the most terrible torments, because they will have to purify us from our mediocrity, our sloth, and our ingratitude towards the Lord whom we repay, if not with the offense of sin, certainly with the indifference of a life which is amorphous and unworthy of those who have deserved to be redeemed by the Incarnate Son of God.
There is another reason why we must be saints: every soul that is saved and goes to Heaven is a precious stone that finds its place set upon the royal crown of Christ. On the contrary, every soul that damns itself and goes to Hell is among the cursed spoils of war that Satan steals in the course of battles, even if the fate of war is already decided and the victory of Christ our King and Mary our Queen has beendecreed from all eternity. Our duty, our commitment of honor as Soldiers of Christ and Knights of the Blessed Virgin must be their glory, through our salvation and that of our brothers and sisters. A salvation that is accomplished through Grace, certainly, but of which we can make ourselves docile instruments. How could we refuse to take the field or prefer to serve in the rear, when we have been given shining armor, a helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Word? How proud of us can our Heavenly Father be when he sees us unable to put to good use the superabundant gifts he has given us?
Many of us, also because of a realistic awareness of our own faults, are tempted to look at holiness as an unattainable goal, which only a few can concretely achieve. And that is a serious mistake. The Lord does not deceive us with false promises of an otherworldly future of blessedness that is meant to lead us to endure present evils in view of hypothetical goods to come. The Lord does not play with souls, especially after He has redeemed them by suffering and dying for each one of us. On the other hand, He does not deceive us by giving us precepts that no one respects, and then admitting everyone to Heaven regardless of how they have behaved or what, if any, faith they have professed. These are the ways of acting of the devil, who, with the false promise of illusory pleasures and transient goods, urges us to disobey God, to be indulgent with our defects, to excuse our sins, and to look at the faults of others in order to diminish our own. The Lord acts as a Father, and as an Almighty Father. He shows us a goal that we could not even remotely hope for by our own means, but that with the supernatural help of His Grace we can really reach, if only we have Faith in Him and the Charity that makes us love Him above all things: over ourselves, over the seductions of the world, over the pleasures of the flesh, over the enticements of pride, over power and money, over the fraudulent offers of the devil.
We are incapable of nothing but doing harm. Yet, with all our infirmities and infidelities, we have merited a Savior who has atoned for all our sins for us, who has cancelled the chirograph of death signed by our First Parents, who has reconciled us to the Father through His Sacrifice. We must only have the humility to recognize ourselves as unworthy of God’s mercy, and grateful for the immeasurable gifts that He has granted us to make us holy. Only humility and detachment from earthly goods allows us to be holy, because humility is the key that opens the door to Heaven, just as pride is the chain that imprisons us in Hell. Humility, then. A humility that is not affected, not a façade, not ostentatious, but a true humility, based on the awareness of our nothingness and on the infinity of everything that comes to us from God and from Him alone.
And since humility is the secret of holiness, let us look to the One who, more than any other creature, although preserved from sin thanks to the Immaculate Conception, has given us a model of humility and abandonment to God’s will. Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum: let it be done to me according to your word. It is she whom the Holy Church celebrates with the very special veneration of hyperdulia, who shows us the great things that the Lord does when we are docile to His will. It is she, ancilla Domini, to whom we must look as our guide, the Morning Star, to walk in this valley of tears and reach our heavenly homeland. And it will be she, at the moment of the final contest, who will lead us before her Son, pleading our cause as our Advocate.
Let us therefore seek holiness, not as a deceitful chimera, but as a reality to which we are called, a destiny of eternal glory, a promise of fulfilment signed with the Blood of the Lamb in the power of the Holy Spirit. And so may it be.
+ Carlo Maria Viganò, Archbishop
November 1st, 2023