The Saints: Friends of God
by Archbishop Francesco Follo
Rev 7, 2-4.9-14; Ps 24; 1 John 3, 1-3; Mt 5, 1-12a
Fellow citizens and relatives of heaven.
The liturgy that on November 1st celebrates the Solemnity of All Saints and on November 2 remembers all souls, makes us venerate the memory of the saints not only to look at them as exemplary models of life or helpful protectors, but also to live with them with a familiarity that becomes prayer, and consolidates the union of the entire Church in the Holy Spirit through the exercise of fraternal charity. In order to help us understand and live in a deeper way the prayer of thanksgiving to God for the Saints and the charity for the dead, I’ d like to propose some reflections on the communion of saints and the life everlasting.
a-To believe and to live the communion of saints is to believe and live the mysterious but real common life that we share with the saints. The life of Christ in us is the same life that is in them. As the communion among us, journeying on this earth, brings us closer to Christ, in the same way our communion with the saints joins us to Christ, from whom, as from the source and the head, comes the grace and the life of the people of God. Nothing is more beautiful than this sharing operated in us and in the Saints by the Holy Spirit. Thanks to this love of partaking, we can live in the Communion of Saints, which begins at home, in the factory, in the office, in the fields, wherever a human person with his or her job fulfils the design of divine mercy by sharing the life of every day. It is the love that pierces our works of temporary life and turns them into works of eternal life. The Communion of Saints is a communion of love that unites, above all in prayer, all the faithful of Christ, those who are pilgrims on this earth, those who, deceased, are being purified, and those who are happy in heaven. All together we form one Church: A huge community of brothers and sisters that in the Brother say the Our Father (see Clemente Rebora).
b- To believe and live the eternal life for us Christians is to believe not only in a life that lasts forever, but also in a new quality of existence, fully immersed in God’s love that frees us from evil and death, and puts us in unending communion with all our brothers and sisters who share the same Love. Eternity, therefore, can already be present in the center of earthly and temporal life when the soul, through grace, is joined to God, its ultimate foundation. “All things pass, God never changes” (St. Teresa of Avila). A Psalm says “Though my flesh and my heart fail, God is the rock of my heart, my portion forever.”(Ps 73: 26). All Christians called to holiness, are men and women who live firmly anchored to this “Rock”. They have their feet on the ground, but the heart already in Heaven, final home of God’s friends.
2) Nostalgia of Heaven and happy Communion.
As I hope that these two liturgical solemnities awaken in us a longing for Heaven, I would invite you to cultivate not only the desire of the company of the Saints, but also the prayer that Christ, our life, may also reveal himself to us as He revealed himself to the saints, and let us be ever more rooted in him. In this happy communion of saints nothing is more useful and necessary than the prayer that recommends to the mercy of God the dead, now alive in Him, who went before us and waits for us. It is a guarantee of comfort, as reminded by St. Augustine who wrote “A tear for the deceased evaporates, a flower on the grave wither, a prayer, however, comes to the heart of the Most High” who redeems with the gift of his Son on the Cross. For this reason we have the assurance that “no one will be lost”. The love of Christ for us has pierced his hands and has “nailed” us eternally to Christ. Those wounds are now glorious, full of hope, and fill every bit of our life that in Him is anchored for the eternity. In this regard, Pope Francis said that “the first Christians used to represent hope with an anchor, as if life were the anchor on the bank, and all of us go there holding the rope …” It’s a beautiful picture, this hope of having our heart anchored where our loved ones, relatives and friends are, where our ancestors are, where the saints are, where Jesus is. Where God is. This is hope. This is the hope which does not disappoint. It is an indisputable hope that comes from a faith which assures us that nothing is lost in heaven, where we will be reunited with our father, our mother, our brothers and sisters and all our friends.
In fact, love stronger than death is the guarantee that there will be the reunion so very much desired. The passionate heart of Christ is our “permanent and ultimately home” where we find ourselves forever united in Love, for Love and by Love. For this reason on November 2nd we “commemorate” our deceased brothers. We remember with “them” the same love that has reached and united us in the family of God. The liturgy is not so much the memory of the death, rather of the resurrection. The liturgy speaks of tears dried up by God’s hand. The liturgical prayer for the dead makes us ask “Let them in to enjoy the light of your face.” Here is a verb humble and strong, unarmed and human: to enjoy. Eternity flourishes in the happiness of a love enjoyed forever because nothing can separate us from it, as the Apostle Paul teaches “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Neither angels nor demons, neither life nor death, nothing can ever separate us from the love of God “(Rom 8:35-37). Let us pray with the whole Church, that in the Prayer of the Mass make us ask, “Merciful Father, hear our prayer and console us. As we renew our faith in Your Son whom you raised from the dead, strengthen our hope that all our departed brothers and sisters will share in His resurrection. Amen”
This is what I propose to invite you to live the Solemnity of All Saints and the celebration of All Souls’ Day in authentic Christian spirit, namely in the light that comes from the Paschal Mystery. Christ died and rose and opened the way to the house of the Father, the Kingdom of life and peace. Those who follow Jesus in this life are welcomed there, where he has preceded us and awaits for us.
3) Way of Holiness.
I conclude these reflections with some thoughts on holiness, because this is the unifying theme of the two days that we are called to live as members of the Communion of Saints.
Holiness, as we well know, is for everyone, as we learn from the Bible in the Old Testament “Be holy, for I the Lord your God, am holy” (Lev 19.2). And in the New Testament Saint Paul writes “This is the will of God, your holiness” (1 Thess. 4.3) according to what Christ said in the Sermon on the Mount “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5, 48).
What is this perfection, this holiness of God? It consists in the fullness of Love that is God. Holy is he who believes in love and trust in Jesus, who has revealed God’s mercy. A mercy freely offered, continually offered and offered to all.
Holiness is not something which concerns only a few who have special talents. “Holiness is not something extraordinary, it is not for a select few. Holiness is for each of us a simple duty “(Mother Teresa of Calcutta). The Saints are the saved ones, those who have responded with love to Love, up to the point of giving their life for the Lord.
In addition to martyrdom, the highest way of giving life to the Lord is consecrated virginity. The women who consecrate their virginity for the Kingdom of God remaining in the world, show that the gift of themselves and of their whole existence is possible every day, in the humility of a daily life constantly oriented to God, loved above all things in joy and in suffering.
The qualities that ornate this life are: consecrated and spiritually fruitful virginity, passionate charity, reserved modesty, discreet sweetness and Marian humility. In short: the wisdom of the heart. For this reason on the day of their consecration the Church asks for these women that “they may always contemplate the divine Master and conform their lives to his example. May perfect chastity, generous obedience and poverty lived with evangelical joy shine in them. Be they be liked by you for their humility, Father, may they serve you meekly, may they adhere to you with all their heart. May they be patient in trials, steadfast in faith, joyful in hope and industrious in love. Their life consecrated to you may build the Church, promote the salvation of the world and appear as a luminous sign of the good things to come “(see Rite of the Consecration of the Virgins)
Already in the 4th century, the Church was celebrating the memory of all the martyrs of the Christian faith on May 13th. In 615 Pope Boniface IV formalizes this celebration by establishing the “Feast of All Martyrs” to commemorate the dedication of the Pantheon, an ancient Roman temple converted into a Christian church dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the martyrs. This temple, formerly dedicated to all gods (Pantheon), was thus converted to celebrate the memory of the martyrs, that is, of those who “have survived a time of great tribulation and have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev 7:14). Subsequently, the celebration of all the martyrs was extended to all the saints. In fact, during the 8th century, at the initiative of the Frankish Bishops, the feast of All Martyrs was called Solemnity of All Saints and was moved to November 1st.
Much more than just a memory, remembrance is an intimacy that surpasses time and space, the “memorial” in Scripture that comes to become “the present of the past” (St. Augustine).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says at number 960 that “the communion of saints indicates first of all the” holy things “[“sancta”], above all the Eucharist by which it is represented, and the unity of the believers, who form one body in Christ And number 961 reminds that the communion of saints refers also to the communion of “holy persons” [“sancti”] in Christ who “died for all” so that what each one does or suffers in and for Christ bears fruit for all.
The consecration is the complete gift of oneself to God, not only in order to fulfill our own vocation but for the good of all, so that others come to the final victory, to the Kingdom of God.
Saint Augustine of Hippo
Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount.
Chapter I. on Mt 5,1-3
1. If any one will piously and soberly consider the sermon which our Lord Jesus Christ spoke on the mount, as we read it in the Gospel according to Matthew, I think that he will find in it, so far as regards the highest morals, a perfect standard of the Christian life: and this we do not rashly venture to promise, but gather it from the very words of the Lord Himself. For the sermon itself is brought to a close in such a way, that it is clear there are in it all the precepts which go to mould the life. For thus He speaks: “Therefore, whosoever heareth these words of mine, and doeth them, I will liken1 him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat2 upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. And every one that heareth these words of mine, and doeth them not, I will liken3 unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.” Since, therefore, He has not simply said, “Whosoever heareth my words,” but has made an addition, saying, “Whosoever heareth these words of mine,” He has sufficiently indicated, as I think, that these sayings which He uttered on the mount so perfectly guide the life of those who may be willing to live according to them, that they may justly be compared to one building upon a rock. I have said this merely that it may be clear that the sermon before us is perfect in all the precepts by which the Christian life is moulded; for as regards this particular section a more careful treatment will be given in its own place.4
2. The beginning, then, of this sermon is introduced as follows: “And when He saw the great5 multitudes, He went up into a mountain:6 and when He was set, His disciples came unto Him: and He opened His mouth, and taught them, saying.” If it is asked what the “mountain” means, it may well be understood as meaning the greater precepts of righteousness; for there were lesser ones which were given to the Jews. Yet it is one God who, through His holy prophets and servants, according to a thoroughly arranged distribution of times, gave the lesser precepts to a people who as yet required to be bound by fear; and who, through His Son, gave the greater ones to a people whom it had now become suitable to set free by love. Moreover, when the lesser are given to the lesser, and the greater to the greater, they are given by Him who alone knows how to present to the human race the medicine suited to the occasion. Nor is it surprising that the greater precepts are given for the kingdom of heaven, and the lesser for an earthly kingdom, by that one and the same God, who made heaven and earth. With respect, therefore, to that righteousness which is the greater, it is said through the prophet, “Thy righteousness is like the mountains of God:”7 and this may well mean that the one Master alone fit to teach matters of so great importance teaches on a mountain. Then He teaches sitting, as behooves the dignity of the instructor’s office; and His disciples come to Him, in order that they might be nearer in body for hearing His words, as they also approached in spirit to fulfil His precepts. “And He opened His mouth, and taught them, saying.” The circumlocution before us, which runs, “And He opened His mouth,” perhaps gracefully intimates by the mere pause that the sermon will be somewhat longer than usual, unless, perchance, it should not be without meaning, that now He is said to have opened His own mouth, whereas under the old law He was accustomed to open the mouths of the prophets.8
3. What, then, does He say? “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” We read in Scripture concerning the striving after temporal things, “All is vanity and presumption of spirit;”9 but presumption of spirit means audacity and pride: usually also the proud are said to have great spirits; and rightly, inasmuch as the wind also is called spirit. And hence it is written, “Fire, hail, snow, ice, spirit of tempest.”10 But, indeed, who does not know that the proud are spoken of as puffed up, as if swelled out with wind? And hence also that expression of the apostle, “Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth.”11 And “the poor in spirit” are rightly understood here, as meaning the humble and God-fearing, i.e. those who have not the spirit which puffeth up. Nor ought blessedness to begin at any other point whatever, if indeed it is to attain unto the highest wisdom; “but the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;”12 for, on the other hand also, “pride” is entitled “the beginning of all sin.”13 Let the proud, therefore, seek after and love the kingdoms of the earth; but “blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”14
Chapter II. Mt 5,4-10
4. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall by inheritance possess15 the earth:” that earth, I suppose, of which it is said in the Psalm, “Thou art my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.”16 For it signifies a certain firmness and stability of the perpetual inheritance, where the soul, by means of a good disposition, rests, as it were, in its own place, just as the body rests on the earth, and is nourished from it with its own food, as the body from the earth. This is the very rest and life of the saints. Then, the meek are those who yield to acts of wickedness, and do not resist evil, but overcome evil with good.17 Let those, then, who are not meek quarrel and fight for earthly and temporal things; but “blessed are the meek, for they shall by inheritance possess the earth,” from which they cannot be driven out.18
5. “Blessed are they that mourn:19 for they shall be comforted.” Mourning is sorrow arising from the loss of things held dear; but those who are converted to God lose those things which they were accustomed to embrace as dear in this world: for they do not rejoice in those things in which they formerly rejoiced; and until the love of eternal things be in them, they are wounded by some measure of grief. Therefore they will be comforted by the Holy Spirit, who on this account chiefly is called the Paraclete, i.e. the Comforter, in order that, while losing the temporal joy, they may enjoy to the full that which is eternal.20
6. “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.” Now He calls those parties, lovers of a true and indestructible good. They will therefore be filled with that food of which the Lord Himself says, “My meat is to do the will of my Father,” which is righteousness; and with that water, of which whosoever “drinketh,” as he also says, it “shall be in him a well of water, springing up into everlasting life.”21
7. “Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.”22 He says that they are blessed who relieve the miserable, for it is paid back to them in such a way that they are freed from misery.
8. “Blessed are the pure in heart:23 for they shall see God.” How foolish, therefore, are those who seek God with these outward eyes, since He is seen with the heart! as it is written elsewhere, “And in singleness of heart seek Him.”24 For that is a pure heart which is a single heart: and just as this light cannot be seen, except with pure eyes; so neither is God seen, unless that is pure by which He can be seen.25
9. “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.” It is the perfection of peace, where nothing offers opposition; and the children of God are peacemakers, because nothing resists God, and surely children ought to have the likeness of their father. Now, they are peacemakers in themselves who, by bringing in order all the motions of their soul, and subjecting them to reason—i.e. to the mind and spirit—and by having their carnal lusts thoroughly subdued, become a kingdom of God: in which all things are so arranged, that that which is chief and pre-eminent in man rules without resistance over the other elements, which are common to us with the beasts; and that very element which is pre-eminent in man, i.e. mind and reason, is brought under subjection to something better still, which is the truth itself, the only-begotten Son of God. For a man is not able to rule over things which are inferior, unless he subjects himself to what is superior. And this is the peace which is given on earth to men of goodwill;26 this the life of the fully developed and perfect wise man. From a kingdom of this sort brought to a condition of thorough peace and order, the prince of this world is cast out, who rules where there is perversity and disorder.27 When this peace has been inwardly established and confirmed, whatever persecutions he who has been cast out shall stir up from without, he only increases the glory which is according to God; being unable to shake anything in that edifice, but by the failure of his machinations making it to be known with how great strength it has been built from within outwardly. Hence there follows: “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
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