Homily for All Saints' Day
AIM: To help the hearers rejoice in our fellowship with the saints.
A decade ago, on April 24th, 2005, Pope Benedict XVI, now retired, began his ministry as Bishop of Rome with the Mass which he celebrated before a vast crowd in St. Peter=s Square in
. Three times that month, he told them in
his homily, they had chanted the litany of the saints: at the funeral of Pope
John Paul II; as the cardinals processed into the conclave to choose his
successor; and at the beginning of the Mass which Pope Benedict was
celebrating, when the response to the invocation of each saint was a prayer for
the new Pope: "Lord help him."
At Pope John Paul's death, Pope Benedict said, his predecessor had crossed the threshold of the next life, entering into the mystery of God. "But he did not take this step alone. Those who believe are never alone -- neither in life nor in death." We knew, the new Pope said, that the saints, A"is brothers and sisters in the faith ... would form a living procession to accompany him into the next world."
Two weeks later, Pope Benedict continued, as the cardinals gathered to choose the Church's new chief shepherd, Awe knew that we were not alone. We knew that we were surrounded, led, and guided by the friends of God. And now, at this moment, weak servant of God that I am, I must assume this enormous task, which truly exceeds all human capacity. How can I do this?
"All of you, my dear friends, have just invoked the entire host of saints, represented by some of the great names in the history of God's dealing with mankind. In this way, I can say with renewed conviction: I am not alone. I do not have to carry alone what in truth I could never carry alone. All the saints of God are there to protect me, to sustain me, and to carry me.
If it is right, and natural, to ask our friends here on earth to pray for us, how much more fitting to ask the prayers of our friends in heaven, the saints? Being close to God, their prayers are especially powerful.
The saints are not remote figures in stained glass windows. In reality they are close to us. We enjoy fellowship with them. The letter to the Hebrews, after giving thumbnail sketches of the saints of the Old Testament in chapter 11, portrays them at the beginning of chapter 12 as spectators in an arena, supporting and encouraging us who are running now the race they ran here on earth. "Seeing, then that we are surrounded by such a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily drags us down; and let us look to Jesus, the beginning and end of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising its shame, and is now set down on the right hand of the throne of God."
People often ask: How many saints are there? There are reference books which list them. And the list is constantly growing. In reality, however, most of the saints are known only to God. That is why we celebrate All Saints' Day, honoring not only those we know, but the vastly larger number of those known only to God. All Saints' Day reminds us that we are never alone: neither in life nor in death.
When we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, and clouds seem to shut out the sunshine of God's love, the saints walk with us. When we rejoice at some answered prayer, some great achievement, some unexpected blessing, the saints rejoice with us. For the saints, our sisters and brothers, are not only more numerous than we often suppose. They are also, in a sense, more ordinary. They faced the same difficulties we face. They never gave up. That was their secret. The saints are just the sinners who kept on trying.
Each time we make a decision for Jesus Christ, we place ourselves on their side. They centered their lives on the Lord. He was their strength in life, their companion in death. He is the same for us. As long as we are trying to be true to him, he will give us what he gave them: strength to live, and courage to die.