On Nov. 1, today, we celebrate All Saints’ Day — celebrating not just the saints who’ve been officially recognized through the church’s very thorough process of canonization, but all the saints.
All Saints includes those women and men whose faith is known to God alone and whose courage, integrity and holiness remains hidden from the world at large. Every one of us knows one or more of these “secret saints” (living and deceased). We lived with them or worked with them or witnessed the difference their lives made in the world around us.
We honor them on Nov. 1 because their quiet witness to the Gospel deserves to be recognized. We celebrate their unsung holiness because their daily lives are models of Christian living that we all, as imperfect Christian disciples, can follow.
The Record’s teaching editorials — written by members of The Record’s Editorial Board — are intended to help us better understand the Christian faith that we profess, and try to live, every day. Subsequent editorials will call attention to the witness of individual saints in an effort to show how different saints teach us (with their actions as well as their words) what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ.
But because we are focused today on all saints and not just one or more particular saints, we have a unique opportunity to reflect on what the universal call to holiness means for ordinary people — people such as you and I.
Pope Benedict XVI has challenged us to avoid the temptation of thinking that saints are like the celebrities or superstars that we read about in the news and entertainment media. Saints are not plastic, two-dimensional figures who were always good and perfect. They are (or were) real people with faults and fears who committed sins they had to atone for and who were sometimes filled with doubts about their ability to do God’s will — in big things and in little things.
Every baptized Christian is called to be a saint. That’s what “the universal call to holiness” means. We’re not all called to be as smart as St. Thomas Aquinas or St. Catherine of Siena. We’re not expected to renounce everything we own to live a life of radical poverty like St. Francis of Assisi or St. Clare. And no one expects that every one of us will minister to the poorest of the poor like Blessed Teresa of Calcutta or be a dynamic international leader like Blessed John Paul the Great.
And yet, every one of us is called to be holy, to be a saint. That’s why we celebrate the solemnity of All Saints. Surely there is (or was) a secret saint somewhere in the 2000 years of Christian history who is the perfect model for me or you. Surely her (or his) intercession can help us live the Christian life more fully so that we can become the person God intends us to be — a holy man or woman who lives the Christian life with joy and in peace.
How do we know if we’re growing in holiness? Pope Benedict offers a simple definition for saints. He says they are people who are “close to God.” You don’t have to be a perfect person to be close to God. (Remember how Jesus befriended the tax collectors and sinners.) But you do have to listen for God’s word in your life and respond to his invitation to “Come, follow me.”
A saint is someone who loves — imperfectly, inconsistently and (at times) unsuccessfully. If we want to be saints, we must practice our loving. If we want to become saints, we must grow in our ability to love God and our neighbors — our spouses, our families, our fellow parishioners, people who think and look and act differently from us, and, yes, even our enemies.
Think of the secret saints who have touched your life. Were they perfect? No. Were they loving — as best they could be? Most likely.
This year on the solemnity of All Saints, pray for the men and women in your life who qualify for secret sanctity. Ask them to inspire you, and challenge you, to live the Gospel more fully and grow in holiness. Be like them and you’ll be close to God.
Special Assistant to the President