Some of the saints can be very intimidating! They are so heroic in their sanctity we fear we couldn’t possibly be like them. We fear we wouldn’t have the courage of the martyr, willing to sacrifice his or her life for their faith. We’re so conscious of our mediocrity as Christians, as well as our sinfulness, that we think all we can do is stand back and admire the saints.
And some of the accounts of their lives give the impression that they were not real men and women of flesh and blood, who share the same emotions and temptations as the rest of us, and who sometimes sin. Instead, we get the impression that they are plaster saints, with no hot blood coursing through their veins. Sadly, we think we couldn’t possibly be like them, that we could never be saints. Rightly, we wouldn’t want to be like such anaemic caricatures of holiness!
But we would be mistaken if we thought we were not called to be saints; that we couldn’t possibly become one! In many ways the saints were people just like us. They came from every walk of life, social class and race. Some were adults, others were children. Some of them were laymen or women, married of single. Others were priests or members of religious Orders. Each one of us is called to follow Christ in the way appropriate to our particular walk of life.
If we think we are not good enough to become saints we would be right. By ourselves we can’t bridge the gulf between the creature and the Almighty Creator God, the sinner and the all-holy One. But if we cease to rely on our very limited efforts God can raise us to share in His own divine life and happiness. If we place our trust in God, not ourselves, we, too, can become saints.
It may come as a surprise to know that the saints suffered the same kind of temptations as we do. Like the rest of us, they sometimes failed. But when they did sin they repented, sought God’s forgiveness and, with his help, made a fresh start. It’s worse to stay down than it is to fall. But saints don’t sink into despair and give up.
But what is a saint? A saint is someone who never gives up on the life-long journey of following Christ into the Kingdom of God. That’s a journey of loving service of God and man. A saint is someone who has learnt to love in the same way as Christ loved. On this journey Christ offers all of us the same assistance as He gave to the saints. This He gives through the sacraments and through prayer. Through prayer our relationship with God is deepened and we draw closer to Him, and He to us. Through prayer we seek His help in overcoming the difficulties of life. If we do not draw close to God it could be that’s not what we really want. And if we don’t receive the help we need in following Christ, that could be due to our not seeking His assistance.
Today we don’t celebrate the feast of any particular saint, but of all of them together. That gives us a sense of belonging to one big family –God’s family –which we call the Communion of Saints.
And we don’t just honour the hundreds officially recognised by the Church. There are many, many more good and holy people, who for the most part go unnoticed, except by God. You may well have met people who are generous in their love and compassion, people who are prepared to make great sacrifices for others. Some of them care for the sick, the homeless and hungry; others work for peace and justice. For others family life provides the context for them to grow in holiness. Others are heroic in the way they cope with suffering, and in a special way identify with the crucified Christ. But whatever our particular situation it is there that God will approach us and we will draw close to Him.
I am inspired by how many people are so prayerful. All around us there are saints in the making, if only we have the sensitivity to notice them. What is more, each of us is called to be a saint. That includes you and me.
Today’s feast of All Saints gives us the encouragement that we, too, can join their number.