Did everyone have a great night “Trick or Treating”? As a child, I remember looking forward to last night for weeks. Part of it was the candy, the idea was to store up enough candy to make it all the way to Thanksgiving. If we made it that long, we were good because Advent and Christmas were just around the corner.
The costumes were also a part of the excitement. Store bought costumes were fun but there was nothing like rummaging through the attic or thrift store to find just the right accessories.
The traditions of Halloween are very jumbled and sorted but the Christian traditions comes from the custom of “souling”. This was practiced in parts of Western Europe from at least the 15th century. Groups of street people would go door – to – door dressed as the dead asking for “soul cakes” and offering to say prayers for those members of the family, of the house, that had passed. This tradition evolved into the “soulers”, the ones going door to door, asking for “mercy on all Christian souls for a soul cake”.
How this tradition evolved from dressing up as the specters of passed souls to that of dressing up as a sexy nurse is anyone’s guess but somewhere the idea has gotten a bit lost.
There are two fundamental elements of those old traditions that we should consider on this Solemnity of All Saints. The first is that our souls exist after they pass from this earth. And the second is that we can affect and be affected by that existence.
In the catechism we read that, “The Church teaches that every spiritual soul is created immediately by God – it is not “produced” by the parents – and also that it is immortal: it does not perish when it separates from the body at death,”
So, what is the soul? The catechism goes on to say that the soul, “refers to the innermost aspect of man, that which is of greatest value in him, that by which he is most especially in God’s image: “soul” signifies the spiritual principle in man.”
In short it is the best of us, while on earth, and the whole of us that continues after earth.
The good news is that there is an “after earth”. When the soul separates from the body at death it continues, and we can continue to pray for and be prayed for by those souls. Hence, the asking for “mercy on all Christian souls”.
To keep things straight, yesterday was the Eve of All Hallows celebrating the day before All Saints Day. Today is All Saints Day and tomorrow will be All Souls Day. Sort of like Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and “Boxing Day” (if you are Canadian or “Exchange Day” if you are American).
The primary distinction is that today we focus on all saints; those on earth striving to be saints, those on earth already saints, and those in heaven already saints. And tomorrow we focus on those souls that are trying to get into heaven.
Since today is all about saints, why don’t we focus on that. All of us “would-be” saints down here.
You might find it interesting to be though of as “saints in training”. You might have never though of yourself as “saint material”. So, what if I told you that this is exactly what you are.
“But wait a minute, what about all of those times …. What about when I …. And, let’s not forget how I always ….” Even then, what if I told you that you are all destined to be saints.
“But you don’t understand, I cannot be a saint, they are all holy and stuff. And you don’t even want to know how unholy I am.”
In March of 2018 Pope Francis wrote an encyclical titled “Rejoice and be glad” (in Latin the title was, Gaudete et Exsultate). It was his call to holiness in today’s world. You should read it because it addresses this exact problem, how we are called to be saints in the world today. Most of it is about the call to holiness in a practical way for this day and age.
In one part of the writing Pope Francis talks about “middle class saints”. Sort of the “working middle class” of sainthood. Sometimes that is where I feel that I am. Just a working stiff, scratching out for every inch of holiness that I can manage. And even then, I am always looking for that road map that might make it a little bit easier.
And then, on this day of the Solemnity of All Saints, in the Gospel reading there it is. Right out of the bible and right into my lap:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.”
I cannot tell you the number of times that I have felt poor in spirit. And in this sense of longing and loneliness, but here Jesus tells us that just around the corner there is the Kingdom of heaven waiting for us, with our name written on it!
“Blessed are they who mourn,
for they will be comforted”
Just when we thought that we had been forgotten and left behind, we come upon this promise. As a matter this is true for each one of the Beatitudes.
Never before in the history of the world, and in no time since has there ever been anything like the beatitudes. Never. Not in the wisdom of Confucius, not in the paths of Buda, not in the proverbs of Mohammed, not in the musings of John Smith, not once, not ever has there been such a beautifully simple path to holiness been laid out.
The amazing power of the teachings of Jesus are written here in His forgiveness, reconciliation and redemption. Blessed are you who are merciful, for you will be shown mercy. Blessed are you who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for your is the Kingdom of Heaven!
Our path to sainthood is right there, laid out for us in black and white. All that we have to do is to be merciful, be peacemakers, be meek. We don’t have to fear persecution or insults because …. And this is the important part, because … “our reward will be great in heaven”. And isn’t that what sainthood is all about?
So, Happy All Saints day, after all it is your day. At least it is your “day in training”.
“Beloved, we are God’s children now;
what we shall be has not yet been revealed.
We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him,
for we shall see him as he is.
Everyone who has this hope based on him makes himself pure, as he is pure.”
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain,
and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him.
He began to teach them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the land.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the clean of heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,
for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you
and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me.
Rejoice and be glad,
for your reward will be great in heaven.”
November 1, 2022
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