From Outsiders to Friends: A Homily for 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…. ”
St. Josemaria Escriva
Christ is Passing By, 49
When we celebrate the solemnity of All Saints, it is so appealing to picture ourselves among them in glory—as in Beato Angelico’s depiction of the General Judgment. The paradiso panel of his painting shows the saints in paradise, embracing or holding hands, joined with angels in a circle, all radiantly dressed. Newman refers to them as “the first fruits of all ranks, ages, and callings, gathered … into the paradise of God” (PPS II, 32).
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—a little unsure of ourselves or tongue-tied. Here, we belong among former wayfarers like ourselves who have welcomed us home.
Friendships are often formed because of common interests, goals, or experiences. Friends want to help each other to enjoy their common interest and to share their experiences of it. But Christian friendship is unique. Our shared experience is of the deepest kind and mostly hidden from view. Both with one another on earth and with the Saints in heaven, we share the most vital of experiences: Having been loved by Jesus.
Each of us, and each Saint in heaven, can bear witness to a particular way in which Jesus has loved them. The Lord touches each life differently: Some have been like the lost sheep whom the Lord sought out and retrieved, others may have strayed relatively little, but all have experienced redemption, forgiveness, and preservation from evil. To all, the Lord reveals His love and mercy, by which we are cleansed and saved: “These are the ones who have survived and have washed their robes and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb” (cf. Rev 7:14).
The experience of having been shown mercy by the Lord Jesus is the strongest possible bond among the members of a fallen race. Having experienced the Lord’s love in very personal ways, each of us builds up the communion of the Church on earth by sharing with one another the mercy and charity we have received, and by encouraging one another: “[L]et us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus,” St Paul exhorts us (cf. Heb 12:1-2). We, as yet on our earthly pilgrimage, all look to Him together, as upon “a lamp shining in a dark place” (2 Peter 1:19), whereas the Saints in light behold Him undimmed, whose “face [is] like the sun shining in full strength” (Rev 1:16).
The Gospel of the Beatitudes appointed for this solemnity reminds us that, as wayfaring Christians, 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 and taken for granted and where, if only imperfectly, “self-giving, faithfulness, friendship and joy reign supreme.” Christians are friends, encouraging each other to live the Beatitudes as the only way to enter the glory of heaven.
We need this mutual support because, in some way, each of us still feels like an outsider. 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 needing to question ourselves: Is Christ really at my center? Are His words to me spirit and life?
We are all “outsiders” in some way, and so were each one of the Saints whom we honor today. Saints who had to overcome inclinations to anger, impurity, violence, vengeance—these are the ones whom we praise and honor today. But because they conquered by the Blood of the Lamb, they stand before His throne and cry out in a loud voice, “Salvation comes from our God and from the Lamb.” We know, they say, because that was our experience of Jesus.
The beautiful image of the saints holding hands, accepting each other, understanding each other, honoring each other, is ours to look forward to, and should be anticipated even in this life. Each of us struggles in his own way. Some struggle in a very private way, others in ways that cannot be hidden. But we all struggle. And so we should see each other in that light: companions in the struggle to overcome ourselves. 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.
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, “Amen. Blessing and glory, wisdom and thanksgiving, honor, power, and might be to our God forever and ever. Amen” (Rev 7:12).
The content is published by the St Josemaria Institute for the free use of readers and may not be copied or reproduced without permission from its author © Fr. John Henry Hanson, 2014.
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 (Scepter Publishers 2019). He and his community are cooperators of Opus Dei.