“I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands.” (Revelation 7:9)
On this first day of the month of November, the Church calls to mind millions of men and women who have lived exemplary lives on earth – fulfilled the demands of the Gospel, walked the narrow path, shunned the world (and its pleasures) and are now enjoying the bliss of eternal life. Some of them were married, some virgins, some religious, some were clerics, doctors, nurses, accountants, engineers, farmers, school teachers, professors, some even traditional rulers, great warriors and so on. The list is endless.
The truth is that there are more saints in heaven than we know of. As John says in our first reading today, the Saints are a “great multitude which no man can number.” Today’s feast is particularly interesting because it affords us the opportunity to celebrate thousands of unknown saints and those we never imagined are in heaven. As we celebrate all the saints in heaven today, there are some questions we need to reflect on:
1. Who is a Saint?
In very simple terms, a saint is a person who once lived on earth and is now in heaven. As John describes in our first reading: “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:14). This vision must have inspired John who happens to be the same author of our Second Reading as he notes: “Everyone who thus hopes in [God], purifies himself as he is pure.” (1 John 3:3).
During the Sacrament of baptism, when the priest or deacon takes the white cloth, he says the following words: “See in this white garment the outward sign of your Christian dignity. With your family and friends to help you by word and example, bring that dignity unstained into the everlasting life of heaven.” Now you see that in his description of the multitude John saw, the white cloth which they were wearing was a symbol of their purity; their freedom from sin and cleansing from every attachment to evil.
During His transfiguration, the Gospels report that Jesus’ “garments became glistening, intensely white, as no fuller on earth could bleach them.” (Mark 9:3, Luke 9:29). Again, when the women went to the tomb of Jesus very early on Easter Sunday to anoint the body of Jesus with the spices, Luke tells us that they found the stone had been rolled away and instead of the body of Jesus, they saw “two men [who] stood by them in dazzling apparel.” (Luke 24:2-5). The Saints are always shining because they are pure, sinless and stainless.
2. Why Do We Honour the Saints? Aren’t We Reducing the Honour Deserving Only to God?
Now, it is important to bear in mind that the greatest and most popular of all the Saints is Jesus Christ. This is because He lived among us, He ate our food, He drank our water etc. and today, we cannot deny the fact that He is in Heaven. We believe that just as Jesus Christ lived as a man on earth is now in heaven, our many brothers and sisters who have faithfully followed the footsteps of Christ are also wearing their golden crowns in heaven. Is it possible that Jesus was lying when He said in today’s Gospel passage, “rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven”? No way.
By the statement, “your reward is great in heaven”, Jesus was describing the honour that would come to those who have served faithfully. If they are honoured in heaven, isn’t it wise that we also honour them on earth? Come to think of it, even in the social sphere, certain persons are revered because of their eminent contributions to that particular field. Go around any ancient city in the world, you will find statues, plaques, memorial buildings etc. of persons who are no more but continue to enjoy great honour and respect.
By honouring the Saints, we keep their memory alive so that their legacies and good deeds would continue to inspire us to live good and upright lives. Now, there is a whole world of difference between the word “honour” and “worship” We honour the Saints but we only worship God. This might be difficult for many to grasp especially those who are very quick at pointing accusing fingers at the Catholic Church. I may visit Abraham Lincoln’s memorial site, spend time there and even buy some Lincoln souvenirs, does it mean that I have become a worshipper of Abraham Lincoln?
The Saints are not in any competition with God. In fact, as John describes in our first reading, the only job the saints are doing in heaven is standing before God with their faces all bowed to the ground worshiping God and singing: “Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honour and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” (Revelations 7:10-12). Knowing that the saints are constantly in prayers worshipping God, we ask them to pray for us. In heaven, there is no relaxation or sleeping time, there is no party time and as Jesus would say, there is no marriage or raising families in heaven (Cf. Matthew 22:30, Mark 12:25 & Luke 20:35).
3. Why do we ask the Saints (“Dead People”) to pray for us?
When we say, “St. Agatha, pray for us,” isn’t it the same thing that Saul tried to do when he consulted a witch to invoke the spirit of Samuel? (Read 1 Samuel 28:7-20). No, asking the saints to pray for us is not the same thing as invoking their spirits. Note that Saul could not even do it on his own, he had to disguise himself and travel to Endor to consult a witch for this. Right from your room, you can simply ask St. Anthony to intercede for you when looking for your lost key and be sure you will soon find it. You don’t need any witch or wizard for that. You are not invoking any spirit.
Are the Saints dead people? Physically, they have died but Jesus Himself taught us that there is life beyond the grave. When the Sadducees who did not believe in the resurrection came to Jesus with a tricky question, Jesus said: “Is not this why you are wrong, that you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God? For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God said to him, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? He is not God of the dead, but of the living; you are quite wrong.” (Mark 12:24-27)
Of course, can we describe the multitude John saw as dead people? Dead people, who stood before God with faces to the ground worshipping Him? The saints are not dead people, they are alive with God in heaven and that is why they can influence things in our world. Jesus told us “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he dies, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.” (John 11:25-26)
4. Can I Become a Saint?
Dear friends, the only reason why Jesus came to be born among us was so that we too might all become saints. Everything Jesus taught us was geared at making us Saints. Consider our Gospel passage today. Jesus gave us the simple steps to attain eternal bliss with the saints in heaven. So, yes. You can become a Saint.
Attaining sainthood is not an impossible thing but your desire for sainthood must be stronger than any worldly aspiration you may be having. You must be longing for it even more than the way you long for food or sleep. One of the beatitudes is: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” The meaning of this is: “Blessed are those longing for sainthood, they shall never be disappointed.”
The journey may be tough but the destination is worth all the struggle. Jesus said: “Blessed are you who are persecuted… blessed are you when men revile you and utter all kinds of evil against you.” Sainthood is not easy, it is not for the faint-hearted; it is for those who will never look back having placed their hands on the plough. (Luke 9:62). It is for those who are willing to deny themselves, take up their cross every day and follow Jesus (Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23). Sure, relying on our own strength, this is impossible but with God, all things are possible. (Cf. Mark 9:23 – All things are possible to him who believes.”
Let us pray: Lord Jesus, I resolve from this day to begin my journey towards sainthood. I resolve to make this my only priority for as long as I live. Help me never to give up or get discouraged when the going seems tough.
Bible Study Revelation 7:2-4,9-14, Psalm 24, 1st John 3:1-3 and Matthew 5:1-12).