Feast of All Saints
One of the Nobel awards for science this year went to a scientist who headed a team that created a molecule so incredibly small that it measured 1/1000 the width of a single human hair! This infinitesimally small entity is designed as a kind of engine all its own that could, for example, bring healing to a single human cell. The article I read went on to say that one of the great interests of current modern science is precisely on the micro-level. Rather than simply developing machinery and vehicles that are more massive and powerful than ever before, there is even greater work being done on elements so incredibly small that they can go to places and do things never before imagined!
What, you might ask, has this to do with the feast of All Saints that we celebrate today?? Prompted by the first reading for today from the Book of Revelation (Revelation 7:2-4, 9-14), I began to think of the “great multitude” that this biblical passage cites of those who praise God and are “marked” with the sign of God’s blessing. They come, the passage notes, “from every nation, race, people, and tongue.” So this feast of All Saints has a wide embrace, celebrating as it does the holy ones who have gone before us in faith and the millions of holy people now living. The “saints” referred to in this great liturgical celebration are not confined to those relative few who have been officially canonized as saints but to everyone who has been embraced by God’s love and has tried to live with that consciousness. How many people is that? All those who lived before Christ and searched for God—people we might call “pagans” but still children of God. All of those who belonged to God’s people Israel and tried with all their might to love God and obey God’s word. All those who over the two-thousand plus years of Christianity were baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ and strove to follow Jesus in their daily lives. All the family members we know and love who have gone before us, trusting in God. All the people we meet every day whose lives reflect the beauty of the gospel.
We may wonder how even God can keep track of such a multitude. But then I think of how purely human knowledge can create something as marvelous as a small “machine” whose dimensions are 1/1000 of the width of a single human hair! I can’t imagine that either—so I trust in God’s infinite power and beauty that is even further from the grasp of my imagination, the awesome power and love of God that is able to reach out and embrace all of the saints throughout the ages and all those still to come.
The Gospel reading for today cites the beatitudes which Jesus declares at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1-12). God’s blessing, Jesus tells his disciples, embraces such a wide range of people: the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger for justice, the merciful, the clean of heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted. It is that loving embrace of God towards all of us that makes us “holy.” And that is the marvel that the church celebrates today!
Fr. Donald Senior, C.P. is President Emeritus and Professor of New Testament at Catholic Theological Union. He lives at the Passionist residence in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago.