From Outsiders to Friends: The Solemnity of All Saints

Our life, despite its human limitations, will be a foretaste of the glory of heaven, of that communion with God and his saints where self-giving, faithfulness, friendship and joy reign supreme.
Cf. Christ is Passing By, no. 49.

Celebrating the solemnity of All Saints irresistibly draws us to imagine ourselves among them in glory. That is one of the main purposes of the feast, according to St Bernard of Clairvaux. “Why,” he asks, “should our praise and glorification, or even the celebration of this feast day mean anything to the saints?” He forcefully answers his own question:

The saints have no need of honour from us; neither does our devotion add the slightest thing to what is theirs. Clearly, if we venerate their memory, it serves us, not them. But I tell you, when I think of them, I feel myself inflamed by a tremendous yearning.

Calling the saints to mind inspires, or rather arouses in us, above all else, a longing to enjoy their company, so desirable in itself. We long to share in the citizenship of heaven, to dwell with the spirits of the blessed, … we long to be united in happiness with all the saints. [1]

This happy communion is possibly nowhere depicted with a more refined splendor than in the paradiso panel of Beato Angelico’s triptych of the General Judgment: saints in paradise embracing or holding hands, joined with angels in a circle, all radiantly dressed, forming what St John Henry Newman calls “the first fruits of all ranks, ages, and callings, gathered … into the paradise of God.” [2]

In this paradise everyone feels free, at home, accepted, and loved in ways which far surpass whatever freedom, acceptance, or love we have ever experienced on earth. Here, we meet the saints as friends, not as celebrities whom we might sometimes meet on earth—feeling a little awkward or tongue-tied. Here, we belong among former wayfarers like ourselves who have come home and now welcome us home. They get us and by the time we reach them, we get them. Mutual understanding is automatic—no more guessing or assuming, but true communion: knowing as we are known, loving as we are loved.

If friendships are often formed because of common interests, goals, or experiences, it is because our joy increases in the sharing of good things. Sharing increases delight—from fans at sporting events and concerts to monks in a liturgical procession, the common bond intensifies individual enjoyment of the good for which people have come together.

Christian friendship, however, is unique. Our shared experience is of the deepest kind and mostly hidden from view—and constitutes the most vital of experiences: That of having been loved by Jesus. Or to say the same thing differently: Having been treated mercifully by the same Redeemer.

Each of us, and each Saint in heaven, can bear witness to a particular way in which Jesus has loved us: Some have been lost like the sheep whom the Lord sought out and retrieved, others may have strayed relatively little, but all have experienced redemption, forgiveness, and mercy. This is the strongest possible bond among the members of a fallen race. We are ‘close knit’ by ties of Blood not our own, but of the Lamb slain for us.

Having experienced the Lord’s love in very personal ways, each builds up the communion of the Church as individual, living stones—either humble bricks or the brightly-colored tesserae of a mosaic—each unique, yet none calling attention to itself. Forming an intricate chorus of shape and color, together they testify: “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” (Ex 34:6-7).

How we end up in that mighty choir is shown by the Gospel of the Beatitudes (Mt 5:1-12), appointed for the solemnity of All Saints. As the building blocks of Christian life, the Beatitudes remind us as wayfaring Christians that it is our duty on earth to help each other feel at home with being poor, meek, pure, merciful—all that the Beatitudes ask of us. We form a society where these virtues are expected, even taken for granted and where “self-giving, faithfulness, friendship and joy reign supreme,” if only imperfectly. Christians are friends, encouraging each other to live the Beatitudes as the only way to enter the communion of heaven.

We need this mutual support because, in some way, each of us still feels like an outsider.

Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near in the blood of Christ. … So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone… (Cf. Eph 2:12-22)

We sinners don’t always feel like we truly belong among those who are meek, pure, poor, merciful. We still feel moved in so many directions: to be proud and vengeful, unmerciful, grasping. We find ourselves regularly feeling like outsiders. On our worst days we may feel less angelic than animal, less righteous than hypocritical.

We are all “outsiders” in some way, and so were each one of the Saints whom we honor today. Many had to overcome inclinations to anger, impurity, violence, vengeance, fear, etc. But because they conquered by the Blood of the Lamb, they stand before His throne and together cry out: “Salvation comes from our God and from the Lamb” (Rev 7:10). We know, they say, because that was our experience of Jesus.

Angelico’s beautiful image of the saints holding hands, accepting and understanding each other, honoring one another, is ours to look forward to, and should be anticipated even in this life. Each of us struggles in his own way—some in a very private way, others in ways that cannot be hidden. But all struggle. And so we should see each other in that light: as both companions and combatants, knowing the struggle truly as insiders. We overcome in the same way that the Saints in glory did: by receiving the love and mercy of Christ, and encouraging one another to persevere in His grace. By sharing the mercy we have received, we encourage one another: “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing,” St Paul exhorts us (cf. 1 Thes 5:11).

We will meet many Saints in heaven, canonized and uncanonized, in whose victories we will rejoice, as they will rejoice in ours. Here is one, we will say, who overcame pride and haughtiness; here is another who acquired chastity after a long struggle; here is still another who finally learned to trust after living in fear for so long. These and so many other victories will be like badges of honor, not marks of shame. We will look into each others eyes as friends and understand without speaking: Look what Jesus did for me! Look what Jesus did for you!

And together we will all sing the same song, forever new: “Amen. Blessing and glory, wisdom and thanksgiving, honor, power, and might be to our God forever and ever. Amen” (Rev 7:12).

1. Liturgy of the Hours: Office of Readings for the Solemnity of All Saints. From Sermon 2 of St Bernard of Clairvaux (Opera omnia, Edit Cisterc. 5[1968], 364-368).
2. St John Henry Newman, “Use of Saints’ Days,” in Parochial and Plain Sermons, vol. 2, sermon 32.

Rev. John Henry Hanson, O. Praem. Rev. John Henry Hanson, O. Praem.

Father John Henry Hanson, O. Praem., is a Norbertine priest of St Michael’s Abbey in Silverado, California. He entered the community in 1995, earned his STB and Masters in Theology at the Pontifical University of St Thomas (Angelicum) in Rome, and was ordained to the priesthood in 2006. Currently, he is a formator in his community's seminary, preaches retreats, is chaplain to several communities of women religious, serves Armenian rite Catholics at the Cathedral of St Gregory the Illuminator in Glendale, California, and is author of Praying from the Depths of the Psalms , Home Again: A Prayerful Rediscovery of Your Catholic Faith and Scatter My Darkness: Turning Night to Day with the Gospel. Father's latest book is Coached by Josemaría Escrivá (Scepter Publishers 2023). He and his community are cooperators of Opus Dei.

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