A homily for All Saints Sunday
Last week, we celebrated the coming of the Holy Spirit. We talked about how that changes the very pattern of reality. No longer are we stuck in the pattern of brokenness, sin, and death. The coming of the Holy Spirit in our lives can grant us a personal Pentecost that moves us into a new realm of existence, a new pattern of reality.
This week, the Church brings our focus to All Saints. Why does All Saints Sunday always follow Pentecost? Because it is the logical result of Pentecost. What happens when the Holy Spirit inhabits human beings? Saints are made!
What makes someone a saint? Their life was transformed by the Holy Spirit – they gave everything for the Kingdom of Heaven. Some of them died for the Christian faith, and others did something that is sometimes harder: they lived the Christian faith – fully!
There was a Christian scholar who saw a book called Saints and Sinners on a bookstore shelf. He leaned over to a priest nearby and said, “Spoiler alert. They’re the same people!” And he was right. Generally, saints were once great sinners. But they allowed the Holy Spirit to radically change them.
How did this change come about in them? Did they receive heavenly help that isn’t offered to us?
No. Instead, they took the promises of the Bible quite seriously. If you read through Holy Scripture, you’ll find promises of crowns, glory, rulership, authority, paradise, feasting and banquets, and every other good thing. Like Abraham, they had faith and believed these promises to be true.
While we should not follow Christ simply for selfish gain, He revealed hints of the heavenly Kingdom so that desire for it would be stirred up within us. None of us is lacking desire. What we lack is faith. This world promises us happiness and fulfillment if we will focus our desires here. And we do so, believing that esteem, status, sex, gadgets, entertainment, comfort, and a multitude of other temptations will bring fulfillment.
Our lack of faith causes fragmented desires. Because of that, when we hear of the vague promises of a heavenly Kingdom, we are not very moved. The shiny things here on earth distract us and keep our desires scattered here.
But through repentance, the saints gathered their scattered desires. They then focused their desire on the heavenly Kingdom. There they found satisfaction – they began to receive foretastes of the Kingdom to come through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. No longer were the promises of Heaven something vague and lofty – they were here and now, real, practical, tangible.
The saints dwelt (and still dwell) here on earth with us, but they were not short-sighted like us. They had an eternal perspective of reality that was sharply focused. With their spirits awakened, nothing in this world could satisfy that desire within them for the eternal beauty of their true homeland.
Perhaps you have felt that desire awaken within. Often it happens while in nature, admiring some beautiful element of creation. Art can stir up similar feelings of a painful longing and yearning within you. Not only do you want to observe this beauty, but you somehow want to participate in it – to partake in it.
But alas, Mother Nature cannot give us what we want – beautiful as she may be. I have found that to be the case when I go back to a place in nature where I was once greatly moved. My second or third time there is usually peaceful, but it doesn’t awaken that deep sense of longing and eternity that I felt the first time.
That’s because I was looking to Mother Nature as the end. But she acts as a sign saying, “If you wish to fulfill this desire within you, then you will have to pursue my Creator. It is only in Him that you will find lasting peace, rest, and joy.”
The saints forsook the fulfillment of desire in the things of this world. They lifted their eyes heavenward, experiencing the eternal Kingdom here in this life. The words of St. Paul we read this morning were remembered by them daily: Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith (Heb. 12:1-2).
Let us then begin to run the race alongside the saints. We begin by believing the promises of God – that is, by having faith. It is difficult to focus our desires on the heavenly Kingdom if we don’t deeply believe in it.
But perhaps some of us are having difficulty with faith. If that is the case, then we should begin to live a life of repentance and virtues. Such a life will cleanse the spiritual eye of the heart and allow it to see God more clearly, to perceive heavenly realities and spiritual things. Pride, sin, and the distractions of this world can blind us spiritually, so sometimes we must begin to simply walk the walk. Doing so is the first step of faith – we are believing that God will honor this obedient trust. We make our hearts cleansed temples so the Holy Spirit can come abide in us.
End note: CS Lewis’ The Weight of Glory was an inspiration for part of this homily and for my forthcoming one.