I love the saints. The saints are close to me, often in my mind and with me in my prayers. In some ways it’s tempting to think of the saints as the spiritual “superheroes” of the Church — think Spiderman, Wonder Woman, Captain America. We actually have a massive list of canonized saints, and many of them are well known to have done amazing things. And they continue to do so: finding things for us, helping to heal our illnesses, and obtaining favors. They are partners who pray with us and for us.
For such prayer support, we might also count on deceased family and friends whose holiness and love helped us on our journey through life while they were alive.
Between them and us there is the not-so-insignificant event called death. Those of us who have experienced the death of someone we love know how hard it is to let go. And if we have been with the person at the moment of death — even though we believe in faith that he or she has gone to a better place — the memory of the experience can linger for years.
Although death is an everyday occurrence, the Church this month places life and death before our eyes in a special way — in the feast of All Saints and the Commemoration of the Holy Souls. These days are a sober reminder that “here we have no lasting city” (Hebrews 13:14). And yet, for those who believe, death is not the end; it is a transition, the gate through which we must pass to eternal life.
When death comes, even following a long period of suffering, its arrival is swift and leaves a feeling of profound emptiness for those who remain. It is certainly uncomfortable to face death, to think about it, to talk about it. And yet the challenge for us all is to confront death in faith as an integral part of our human condition.
My friends, we believe that God has prepared great things for those who struggle to love him. One of my favorite little bits of the Bible, from 1 Corinthians, is this saying:
What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him (2:9).
To put it simply, God intends us to be saints. Saints! In Greek, the term is ἅγιοι (hagioi) and in Latin, sancti — literally, “the holy ones.” Our life’s goal is to be with the saints and be one of them in the unspeakable happiness of heaven.
About a month after my good mother died, I had a vivid dream: It was nighttime and I had just come in late to our family home. Of course, my mother could not sleep until she knew we were safe, and so she called out to me to come to her room. When I walked in the door, there was darkness. She told me to turn and face the other way, and then she said, “You have your back to God!” I turned back to her and said quite sarcastically, “Why, is he here?” And she said, “I was dancing with him!”
In these shadowy days of November, we remember all those who are seeing God, perhaps dancing with God. But between then and now, there remains a great challenge.
You might have noticed that Pope Francis, when he’s interacting with young people, often taps them on the face with his hand. It reminds us how, in days gone by, in conferring the sacrament of Confirmation, the bishop would give the one being confirmed a gentle slap on the cheek. This 13th-century ritual, which is no longer practiced, was meant to be a reminder that the struggle now begins in earnest.
Our lives (and I know I don’t need to tell you) are often a struggle, even a battle. We wage war with sickness and disappointment, with broken relationships, and certainly with personal sin. This is our exciting human and Christian struggle. This is the path of holiness.
Our goal in this life must be to become all that we were created to be so we can join the women and men, boys and girls, who right now see the glory of God. Like them, we are called to do amazing things in our lives. To be a superhero? Well, simply to respond to all our daily challenges and struggles in the way the Gospel calls us to do can be considered amazing, even heroic. With courage today and always, allow God to help you to become all that he created you to be. Keep up the struggle. If you’re down, get up!
Be glad and proud to follow Jesus Christ, for your reward will be great … in heaven!