1st Nov 2013

Will They Know Us as Saints?

by Kathryn Jean Lopez

“Remember … our brothers and sisters who have fallen asleep in the hope of the resurrection, and all who have died in your mercy.”

Death is at the forefront of these early November days. With kitsch and cuteness, it’s a surface treatment until we meet the days of prayer that follow trick-or-treating. On Halloween, as children dressed as skeletons, ghosts, and zombies — superheroes, too — were heading to school parties or rushing to get home so they could begin knocking on doors yesterday, death was in the background.

On All Hallow’s Eve, the second Eucharistic Prayer was in use at the morning Mass I attended, calling us to remember the deceased.

“[W]elcome them into the light of your face,” the prayer continues.

“Have mercy on us all, we pray,” we, do, indeed, pray.

“We ask that with the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, with the blessed Apostles, and all the Saints who have pleased you throughout the ages, we may merit to be coheirs to eternal life …”

The words from the Mass beg the question.

As we go forth when the greatest prayer there is has ended, are we pleasing God with our lives? Are we glorifying the Lord with our lives? With our thoughts and deeds? With our conversations and actions? With our sacrifices and gratitude?

Sacrifices? Is that foreign?

It’s a remarkable fact of faith that, as St. Paul reminded us in the Thursday readings:

[N]either death, nor life, nor angels nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creatures will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 8:38)

What do we do with that? Do we live as we truly believe this?

St. Paul consoles us when he reminds us, as we were reminded in the readings of the Mass this past Wednesday that:

The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness;
for we do not know how to pray as we ought,
but the Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings.
And the one who searches hearts
knows what is the intention of the Spirit,
because he intercedes for the holy ones
according to God’s will. (Rom 8:26-27)

We are so loved. And we have free will. What do we do with it?

Oftentimes we do ourselves a real disservice when, if we sing a hymn at a given Mass, we only hit a mere first verse and chorus.

“For All the Saints” — one we may sing these days — is a mix of joy, confidence, and praise.

For all the saints who from their labors rest,
Who to the world their faith in you confessed;
Your name, O Jesus, be forever blest.
Alleluia! Alleluia.

There is the remarkable reality expressed there that we are never alone. As Pope Francis remarked the other day, “We are united to one another in the Body of Christ. Through this fraternal communion we draw nearer to God and we are called to support one another spiritually. The communion of saints does not only embrace the Church on earth.” The Trinity and the Communion of Saints is our reality. And yet, could anyone tell by watching us?

This unity is for all those souls “who died in His mercy,” as we pray. This communion, Pope Francis, added, “embraces all who have died in Christ, the souls in purgatory and the saints in heaven.” The souls in purgatory are our brothers and sisters who need our help every bit as much as the persecuted and the poor, and just as much as the “Arab Spring” refugees on the small Sicilian island Lampedusa — the ones the pope keeps talking about. (If he didn’t, with his platform, just how many of us would even know about their plight?)

There in that first verse of “For All the Saints” is a reminder: There is work to be done. Saints aren’t just nice people. They were laborers in the vineyard of the Kingdom of God here on earth. It’s the hint that there is more to this saint stuff than mere good people and inspirational stories. This ain’t the Hallmark Channel.

You were their rock, their fortress and their might;
You, Lord, their Captain in the well-fought fight;
You, in the darkness drear, their one true light.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

Now we’re talking details. Darkness. Fight. Light. Spiritual journeys are not aimless. There’s a serious battle going on. “Might” is quite the word. May we never be separated from the light of faith, from the God who loves and protects us — if we stay with Him, if we go to Him as we fall. Every time. Yes, again! Notice, still, even with the “darkness drear,” we have confidence, hope, and thanksgiving.

O may your soldiers, faithful, true, and bold,
Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old,
And win with them the victor's crown of gold.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

Again, there is a fight going on. It’s the fight of salvation history that Christ has already won for us. There’s no reason to despair, but only a mandate to be faithful to a merciful God who knows well our all-too-human struggles. We have divine hope! He will get us to the finish line. That’s certainly reason for an Alleluia!

O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
Yet all are one within your great design.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

Let’s talk about saints. There are the well-known Church fathers, and doctors, and little-known martyrs who flooded the 20th century as evil did, too. They’re men and women living among us who we may never know but whose sacrifices may affect our lives in the ways of God’s grace. Their human stories offer us seemingly endless models of Christian virtue, conversion, hope, and heroism. But more than stories in books, they walked here, and will walk with us in prayer today, as heavenly intercessors, who help plead our case for grace to see more clearly the Lumen Fidei.

The march with the saints goes on as the latter verses reflect on the realities of the spiritual battle we often find ourselves engaged in and beleaguered by as we observe in horror. Be not afraid.

And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
And hearts are brave again, and arms are strong.

The hymn continues:

The golden evening brightens in the west;
Soon, soon to faithful warriors comes their rest;
sweet style calm of paradise the blest.

Sometimes, during the end of life, how often have heard stories of or watched ourselves as a man or woman in intense pain seems to have found the peace that can often seem unattainable as we try to pay the bills? Perhaps they can see the light of Paradise on the horizon.

Need hope? Look to the final stanzas.

But then there breaks a yet more glorious day;
The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of glory passes on his way.

Want to be home at last?

From earth’s wide bonds, from ocean’s furthest oats,
through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
Singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost:

This is the purpose of our lives, to make this truth known and sing hymns of praise to this great glory of God with the way we live our lives.

Saints are not superheroes, Pope Francis stressed this week. They were sinners who were transformed by authentic faith, by radical conversion. “To be Saintly is not a privilege of a few, but a vocation for everyone,” the pope said on All Saints Day. “We are all called to walk the path of holiness, and this pathway has a name and a face: it is Jesus Christ.” And we don’t walk it alone.

We’re called to be saints. This is not just the stuff of hymns and feast and obligatory Mass days. This is who we are, this is our identity, if we are who we say we are as Catholics. Let us live these days in the run-up to Advent and the celebration of the Incarnation in full awareness of the fellowship of the saints, in communion with the souls who haven’t left us and need us to know it, surrendered to the Trinity, our Creator, our Savior, our Holy Counsel.

Whether in pain or joy, never pretend to be alone. Always seek a deeper knowledge of this life of faith, of encounter with Christ, and of the prayers of all the saints who serve as ladders to the light of God’s face.

If we’re the people who longs to see His face, then let’s live like it already — with all the angels and all the saints rallying for us ever along the way.

Can we really keep from singing? “Alleluia! Alleluia!” Why would we try?

Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online and a nationally syndicated columnist. She is a director of Catholic Voices USA and blogs on Catholic things at K-Lo@Large.

(The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Catholic Pulse or the Knights of Columbus.)