Most of the masses celebrated during the week commemorate the lives of one or more saints. The names of some saints will be familiar to all of us while many of the names will be unfamiliar. Since the church has sainted and beatified around 10,000 men, women and children it would be fair to say most of them we have never heard about. Unknown to us but they are saints held up to us by the church as an example of holiness and sacrifice.
Yet I would bet if you could ask any of them if they considered themselves holy, they would deny it completely. I recall how John XXIII and Mother Theresa called themselves sinners. I believe they completely understood the words of Paul when he said “righteousness comes from faith in Christ and that all sin and fall short of the glory of God.” There is nothing we can do to become righteous on our own, it is happens when we embrace what Christ’s death achieved for us.
So here is something for us to consider on this day when we celebrate all the saints gathered around the throne of God. If the holy ones the church has honored with sainthood or beatification consider themselves sinners and not saints, then why do we who are sinners not embrace our own sanctification by the death and resurrection of Christ? I am sure if you had a chance to talk to St. Augustine, St. Paul, St. Peter or King David they would tell you how they changed from sinners to saints. It was nothing they did but it was their encounter with God and the Holy Spirit that transformed them. So we must know that we cannot earn our place before the throne of God by our own righteousness – it is ours through the mercy of God.
So the church today honors all men, women and children who have faithfully believed in the grace of God at work within them. We honor not the 10,000 named saints but the unnamed who form the multitude before the throne of God. It is by the grace of God that they now stand in the presence of the Father. It was God’s grace that allowed them to live lives of holiness. That grace allowed them to give of themselves to help others. That grace allowed them to be faithful in the face of temptation. That grace allowed them to stand before Christ knowing they deserve to be stoned for their sin only to hear the words “is there none to condemn you, then neither do I.” That grace allowed them to return to the Father after a shameful life only to receive an embrace and a celebration. The beatitudes we know so well describe this multitude and why they are in the presence of Christ who gave his life so they may live.
Listen to the voices of the multitude of unnamed men, women and children from every tribe and nation, every tongue crying out to the Lamb on the throne – salvation comes from our God. Blessing and glory, wisdom and thanksgiving, honor, power, and might be to our God forever and ever. Amen. Among those around the throne we will find very ordinary individuals. People like our parents, grandparents, siblings, friends and enemies.
Among those around the throne we will find very extraordinary individuals. The Christians who recently were martyred are certainly among the extraordinary. Because it was recent, I think today of the 10 young men and women who died at the hands of a madman in Oregon. I think of that first student who said yes when asked by that lunatic if “they were a Christian.” I marvel as I think of the 9 who heard that one say yes and then they also responded yes knowing the cost of acknowledging Christ would be their death.
In the past year thousands of Iraq’s Christians have crucified, burned alive, beheaded, shot, raped and evicted from ancient Christian lands. In America we face a different kind of persecution. It is a persecution that uses our own laws to silence us. It is a persecution that intimidates, coerces, ostracizes, threatens and uses every tactic possible to silence us from any public display of your faith. If we we remain silent will we be counted as one who has washed their robes in the blood of the lamb? “If you deny me before others I will deny you before my father in heaven” (Mat. 10:33).
I believe that today our thoughts should consider the choices of those who “have washed their robes in the blood of the lamb.” The church gives us the saints as an example so it is good for us to consider our own response to God’s gift of salvation. All Saints day is a reminder of what awaits us when we stand before others in this world and acknowledge that “nothing can separate us or them from the love of God” (Rom. 8:3). Nothing we can ever experience will fill us with more joy and satisfaction than living each day proclaiming Jesus Christ as Lord. Then one day we will find ourselves with that multitude before that throne. It is then that we will respond Amen, knowing that thanksgiving belongs to our God – for once we were lost but the gift of grace came to us.