All Saints are Marching in! How Can I Be in that Number?


– By Fr Ugo Ikwuka
Archway, London


A priest died and a very reckless bus driver also died and both appeared before St. Peter at Heaven’s Gate. St. Peter lets in the bus driver but the priest was locked out. Surprised, the priest asked St. Peter how that could be. St. Peter replied, “Father, when you preached, people slept, but when that driver drove, people prayed.”

Why is it necessary to celebrate the Feast of All Saints as we do every 1st of November which falls on this Sunday? Well, all year round, we celebrate feasts of saints that are allocated different days in the year. For instance, this Wednesday 28th of October, we celebrated the feast of Saints Simon and Jude. On the 4th of November, we shall celebrate the feast of St. Charles Borromeo and so it goes round each year. But it is necessary to set apart a day to celebrate the feast of all saints because besides the handful of saints that are celebrated on specific feast days, there are countless others that had lived saintly lives – men, women and children who are now united with God in the heavenly glory, who are not accommodated in the annual liturgical calendar.

Among these would be our relatives and friends who have passed on as heroic people of faith. We celebrate what the First Reading calls, “A great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.” The Book of Revelation declares that “they will never hunger or thirst again, the sun and scorching wind will never plague them, because the Lamb who is at the heart of the throne will be their shepherd and will guide them to the springs of living water; and God will wipe away all tears from their eyes” (Rev. 7:16,21:4).

We look forward to the day when we too can be with them, experiencing the same total happiness. It is therefore quite reassuring that the saints we celebrate today were men and women like us. Where we are now, they used to be and, where they are now, we hope to be someday. The saints are therefore not extraordinary people but people who do ordinary things extraordinarily.

The human experience is that with time, we begin to attend to everyday responsibilities as mere routine and rituals, without the thoroughness they deserve. The difference between us and the saints is that the saints never slack in carrying out their ordinary everyday activity. Any time they clean or mop, they do it conscientiously; in fact they aim to do it even better at every turn. When they greet, they don’t just say ‘hi’ and hurry off. They ask, “How are you?” and wait to hear how you really are.

The saints also paid a price, like Jesus, for doing what is right. Yes, the irony of life is that no good deed ever goes unpunished. That is why the First Reading says that they are the people who went through persecution and persevered. They don’t sound politically correct so as to avoid persecution. They carried their cross and followed Jesus. That is why they share in his resurrection and eternal glory. That path of the cross which leads to glory is the narrow path of the Beatitudes which Jesus listed in today’s Gospel. That is the charter for holiness.

Our contemporary society firmly rejects this as the naiveté of religious belief, but then again the society of Jesus’ day did the same, as Saint Paul witnessed: “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God…. we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called…, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor 1:18, 23-24).

Many think of holiness in terms of keeping the Ten Commandments. But there are major differences between the Commandments and the Beatitudes. The Commandments are fairly easy to keep and as far as the Gospel is concerned, they can be observed without love. This was exemplified with the rich young man who acknowledged that he had kept the Commandments since his youth, but who couldn’t bring himself to share his wealth with the poor (Mark 10:17-31). This was surely a failure in love for the neighbour. And so he could not become a disciple of Jesus.

Strictly speaking, the Beatitudes are not commandments but deep-down attitudes of mind. Their observance is only possible with a deep love of God and love of others. They must be understood in the light of the Kingdom of God which means sharing God’s vision of what life is about. In this vision of life, it is not the rich and the powerful who are really happy and fortunate but the meek and lowly. Clearly, this goes against the way the world thinks.

Where Jesus says, ”Happy are the poor in spirit” the world would more likely say “Happy are the rich.” Where Jesus says, “Happy are those who mourn” the world would more likely say “Happy are those having fun.” Where Jesus says, “Happy are the meek” the world would more likely say “Happy are the smart.” Where Jesus says, “Happy are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” the world would more likely say “Happy are those who party and have enough to eat.”

Where Jesus says, “Happy are the merciful” the world would more likely say “Happy are the powerful.” Where Jesus says, “Happy are the pure in heart” the world would more likely say “Happy are the slim in body.” Where Jesus says, “Happy are the peacemakers” the world would more likely say “Happy are the news makers.” And where Jesus says, “Happy are those who suffer for their righteousness” the world would more likely say “Happy are those who can afford the best lawyers to free them from trouble”.

To be a child of the kingdom therefore entails a radical change in the way we see life and its values. As St. Paul noted in his First Letter to the Corinthians, “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world so that no one might boast in the presence of God” (1Cor. 1:26-29).

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