HOMILY for All Saints’ day
As I’m someone who regularly wears clothes that were last considered fashionable in the 13th-century or even earlier, you’ve probably observed that I’m not very attentive to fashion trends. For example, I’ve only recently noticed a trend made popular by various celebrities that started over two years ago: the saints bracelet. You may have noticed it? It’s a bracelet with small images of various saints that encircle the wrist, and people say they wear it for protection or as a statement of faith. So, how can the saints bracelet help us to understand what we profess in the Creed: “I believe in the communion of saints”?
In a small way the bracelet, with its depictions in vivid colours of various women and men from different times and cultures, can remind us of today’s first reading. The multitude of saints come “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues”. And there are so many of them that, as the letter to the Hebrews says: “we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses” (12:1); surrounded by people in every time and place who have witnessed to their faith – our common faith – in Jesus Christ. As the bracelet surrounds the wearer (or at least, her wrist) it can remind us of this.
However, is the saints bracelet a lucky charm bracelet? We need to ask what we mean when we say the saints protect and help us. The Catechism, citing St Thomas Aquinas, says that “Since all the faithful form one body, the good of each is communicated to the others” (CCC 947). So, because we are all united to Jesus Christ through our common baptism, we can receive, through their intercession, the good we need for our eternal salvation and that keeps us from sin. Hence, the saints help us by praying for us, requesting from God those graces and virtues we need so that the Beatitudes become a concrete reality in our lives, so that we might become ‘blessed’ as we co-operate with God’s grace. Thus, as Vatican II taught: “by their fraternal concern is our weakness greatly helped” (Lumen Gentium, 49).
What we’ve considered so far – the variety and multitude of the saints – tells us something vital about God’s grace: grace builds on human nature without destroying it. So, grace is not something we wear like a bracelet, that we can simply put on and take off, nor does one size fit all. Rather, grace gets under our skin and transforms us. Hence, there is no carbon copy saint because we’re all different. God’s grace perfects you, making you the best ‘you’ that you can be. Hence, the Dominican saint, Catherine of Siena said: “If you are who you were meant to be, you will set the world on fire”.
And this is just what the saints do, each in their own distinctive way, depending on where they find themselves, in their current culture, place and time. With the good and virtue they receive and learn from Christ, they make good what is lacking in our world and restore it to how God made it: a world that is good, beautiful and fashioned by love. Hence Chesterton said, the saint “will generally be found restoring the world to sanity by exaggerating whatever the world neglects, which is by no means always the same element in every age”. But because the saints restore what the world neglects, they also challenge the zeitgeist. As such, while the saints bracelet may be a fashion trend, the saints themselves are seldom fashionable. Rather, as Chesterton said, the saint “is not what the people want, but rather what the people need”.
For what we need is not another fad and fashion trend, but that which endures, the one thing on which all creation depends for its very existence, namely, the love of God. The saints manifest this love to us and teach us how to be perfected by this love so that we become more free and more fully human, more like Jesus Christ who is true Man. For his grace perfects humanity, freeing us from the dehumanizing effects of sin, and enabling us to love as God loves. Therefore, we’re called to not just put on saints bracelets, but to brace ourselves to become saints; putting on Christ and letting the Holy Spirit sanctify us.
We – you and I – are capable of this because the very same baptismal grace and freedom that the saints have is also yours and mine. As St John says: “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are”.
May all the saints pray for us!