All Saints Day: Work in progress – all saints – us!

What is the correct tense to use when you are thinking about a saint? Is a saint primarily a figure of the past – such as John Henry Newman whose very recent canonization in Rome we in the Diocese in Europe we have shared in celebrating? Is it, are it, special people we encounter in the present who we are happy to call saints in the here and now? Or when we think of saints do our minds turn to those celebrating in God’s heavenly future?

The lectionary readings for All Saints encourage us to think about saints with a variety of tenses. The reading from Daniel 7.1-3; 15-18 draws us both to the past and the future, the Gospel of Luke 6.20-31 – with its typically Lukan ‘now’ keeps our feet firmly in the present; readings often used at the Feast of All Saints from the Book of Revelation encourage us to keep our eyes on the future (though actually Revelation is not used in this year’s lectionary suggestions for the Feast).

newman celeb

The celebration of the canonization in Rome of John Henry Newman was clearly enjoyed by members of the Diocese in Europe and others. 

What I love about the lectionary Epistle set for All Saints on this particular year (Ephesians 1.11-23) is that somehow it links together past, present and future. Clearly ‘time’ itself is important as a background to understanding this passage as it is prefaced by the comment about a ‘plan for the fullness of time’ (Ephesians 1.10). It then goes on to reflect on the ‘inheritance’ we have already obtained, and speaks at a couple of points also about our future ‘hope’ of the ‘glorious inheritance among the saints’. But in the middle of all this there is one of my (and my husband’s) favourite lines of scripture, as the author prays that ‘the eyes of our hearts may be enlightened’. The ‘eyes of the heart’ is such a wonderful and evocative image in so many ways. Perhaps inevitably (given that I love the story of the Road to Emmaus!) it reminds me of those disciples who had opened eyes and hearts on fire through their encounter with the Risen Christ on that particular journey. But the image of the enlightening of the heart also reminds us that sainthood and holiness itself is a journey and a process which we ourselves are presently participating in, as we gradually find the light shining more and more brightly within us and transforming us as it does. The riches of the past and the hope for the future provide a resource for us. And what is our guide in the present? Tellingly the chapter concludes with a reference to the church, which is intimately related to Christ using the metaphor of body. Saints are not made in isolation, they are grown in and through this community of faith.

This brief reflection began with a reference to John Henry Newman, so it is appropriate to conclude by drawing on the words of the one who presided so recently at his ceremony of canonization, in which he reflects on such ‘work in progress’ for the making of all saints:

‘Let the grace of your baptism bear fruit in a path of holiness. Let everything be open to God; turn to him in every situation. Do not be dismayed, for the power of the Holy Spirit enables you to do this, and holiness, in the end, is the fruit of the Holy Spirit in your life (cf. Gal 5.22-23). When you feel the temptation to dwell on your own weakness, raise your eyes to Christ crucified and say: “Lord, I am a poor sinner, but you can work the miracle of making me a little bit better”. In the Church, holy yet made up of sinners, you will find everything you need to grow towards holiness. The Lord has bestowed on the Church the gifts of scripture, the sacraments, holy places, living communities, the witness of the saints and a multifaceted beauty that proceeds from God’s love, “like a bride bedecked with jewels” (Is 61.10).’ (Pope Francis, Apostolic Exhortation: Gaudete et Exsultate, 2018, para. 15)

Clare Amos

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