SOLEMNITY OF ALL SAINTS ON SUNDAY NOVEMBER 1, 2020 (R. 1: Revelation 7: 2- 4, 9- 14; Psalm 24: 1bc- 2, 3- 4ab, 5- 6; R. 2: 1John 3: 1- 3; Gospel: Matthew 5: 1- 12a)
FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO
All ARE WELCOME!
During my seminary days, at the end of our communal prayers in the Chapel, we observed a moment of silence after which the prefect invoked one of the saints, then we responded, “Pray for us.” At that point, we would be free to go out of the Chapel for the next activity such as morning function, lunch etc. For the invocation of saints, the prefect usually called on very familiar saints like St. Peter, St. Theresa etc. One day, the prefect said, “St. Turibius of Mongrovejo!” Instead of responding, “Pray for us” as usual, we burst out laughing. We felt he made it up as the name did not sound familiar to us. Some of us went to him outside the Chapel to find out why he decided to make jokes out of our prayer session. He then explained that he was serious and that St. Turibius of Mongrovejo was real. He explained further that he chose an unfamiliar saint to speed up the answers to our prayers. According to him, God listens to the saints, one after the other and each saint is expected to present one intention at a time. For St. Peter and other popular saints, people call on them from all parts of the world and so they have very long lists to present. But for the unpopular ones, they do not have too many on their lists, so those who invoke them get their prayers answered quickly by God.
Please, do not repeat this story at home. It does not sound like the official position of the Church, however, there is a point we can pick from it regarding the Solemnity that we celebrate today. We are privileged today to celebrate the Solemnity of All Saints. These saints include the known and unknown, canonized and not. Canonization is not what makes a saint, it only recognizes a saint. There are more unknown saints than known saints. Anyone who has made it to heaven is a saint.
It is very difficult to become a saint; it is also very easy to become a saint. If we rely just on our own capability, it will not just be very difficult but impossible. However, if we do our best and rely on the grace of God, it will be very easy, for “With God, all things are possible” (Matthew 19: 26). As such, when we celebrate the Solemnity of All Saints, we are not just stuck at the level of the saints. Ultimately, this celebration is in praise of God whose grace made it possible for the saints to have made it to heaven in spite of the challenges along the way.
The story is told of an old lady who prayed before the Blessed Sacrament saying, “God, please, pray to Saint. Anthony to help me find my keys.” Something is certainly wrong here. God is the only object of our worship as Catholics. We do not worship the saints and we do not pray to the saints. We only invoke them as a result of their closeness to God to pray to God for us. The reverence that we give to the saints is referred to as Dulia, the reverence we accord the Blessed Virgin Mary as the holiest of creatures is called Hyperdulia, while the supreme worship, which is meant for God alone is called Latria.
Saints come from every nation and everywhere as emphasized by the first reading from the Book of Revelation. The omitted verses call each of the twelve tribes of Israel and ascribe twelve thousand elect to each. The number twelve stands for the complete twelve tribes of Israel while the thousand stands for abundance. It means there is an abundance of elect from each of the twelve tribes of Israel. The twelve thousand from each of the twelve tribes make up the one hundred and forty four thousand elect. In the New Testament, the twelve no longer stands for the twelve tribes of Israel, but for the twelve Apostles who were later sent to proclaim the good news to the whole world. The twelve is now representing all the nations of the world. So, there is an abundance of room in heaven for all nations; all are therefore welcome. It is not the literal one hundred and forty four thousand. If it were to be, then we would be wasting our time here today as all the positions would have been taken even before we were born.
The Gospel passage continues this same general call to holiness with the beatitudes. Blessed are the poor in spirit…, blessed are the peace makers… All these requirements are open to people of every nation. In whatever state of life you find yourself today, be rest assured that there is a saint who was like you while on earth, priests, religious, married, widowed, divorced, single etc. Today is like an alumni home-coming when the old boys and old girls of a school come back to their alma mater. Such home coming serves as motivation for current students. On hearing about and seeing the achievements of their old students, they can easily say, “If these great men and women were once students here, it means that we also can become great in future if we work hard.”
So, the saints (our old boys and old girls) are visiting us in a special way today to motivate us to become like them. As a young seminarian, there were times I went to hide in my little corner, picked a piece of paper and pen and wrote, “Rev. Fr. Emmanuel Inedu Ochigbo” and I said to myself, “This looks cool!” It was a motivation for me. Now, I secretly say, “Saint Emmanuel of Nigeria and Ocean Beach, Pray for us.” It is a motivation for me to strive towards Sainthood. According to Fr. Tom Kiely, “We are all Saints in Training.” May All Saints intercede for us that we become like them after a happy sojourn here on earth, through Christ our Lord. Amen.