01 November 2009


Solemnity of All Saints
Mt 5:1-12

The celebration of the Solemnity of All Saints dates as far back as the papacy of Boniface IV in the years 608 through 615. On May 13, 610, Pope Boniface IV had the remains of many martyrs transferred to a church dedicated to Mary, the Mother of God, and to all the Holy Martyrs. That church, named Pantheon, was once a pagan temple to all the gods. To commemorate that great day, the Feast of All the Martyrs was instituted.

Almost one hundred years thereafter, Pope Gregory III (731-741 A.D.) consecrated a new chapel in the Basilica of St. Peter on the first day of November. He dedicated it not only to the martyrs but to all the saints. From then on, the dedication of that chapel was celebrated annually on November 1, the date that was also officially made the feast of all saints. After another century, Pope Gregory IV (827-844 A.D.) extended the celebration of the feast to the Universal Church.

The cult of the saints started very early in the history of the Church. In the beginning the persecution of the disciples of Jesus of Nazareth was rather sporadic and in pockets only. Inspired by the heroic faith of the martyrs, the early Christians easily developed deep reverence for them, emulating their exemplary life and praying for their heavenly aid. Eventually, widespread persecution of Christians started during the reign of Emperor Nero, as he falsely accused the followers of Jesus with the burning Rome, the imperial city. However, even pagan historians claimed that Nero – in his madness – had the city reduced to ashes, watching the inferno from his palace as he fiddled his violin. Indeed, the Christians were easy scapegoats for Nero’s incompetence and insanity; thereby, turning the tide of the general populace against them. From then on, countless Christians suffered tortures and death. It was said that the evenings in Rome were brightly lit, for Christians served as human torches.

It was only during the reign of Emperor Constantine, son of St. Helen, that the widespread persecution of Christians stopped. Constantine was kind to the Christians, allowing them to worship and to practice their religion in public. In the imperial court were some Christians, too. Later on, Catholicism became the official religion of the Roman Empire, and Constantine himself was baptized prior to his death.

The word “martyr” came from the Greek word marturion, meaning, “witness”. Martyrs are Christians who gave witness to their faith even unto the shedding of blood. However, instead of bringing the downfall of Christianity, the widespread persecution of the disciples of Jesus gave birth to even more disciples. As the historian Tertullian wrote, “The blood of the martyrs became the seed for new Christians.”

It is fitting therefore that the Church venerates and pays tribute to the martyrs. However, there were also Christians who, though not dying for the faith, exemplified outstanding virtues in following the Lord Jesus. They, too, should be venerated and given tribute. They, too, must serve as models for all Christians. They, too, are causes of our joy and gratitude to God. Thus, the former Feast of All Martyrs was changed to the present Solemnity of All Saints. These saints – men and women from all times and places – are countless and God alone knows their names. Like you and me, they were ordinary people

Ordinary people – that is precisely what saints are! Saints are ordinary persons like you and me. They too had sinned and had their share of human imperfections. But they struggled to rise each time they fall. They strove to live as Jesus lived and to love as Jesus loved. That is why it is very important that we celebrate the Solemnity of All Saints. Celebrating the Solemnity of All Saints reminds us that while not all of us may die for the Faith, we are nonetheless challenged to die to our selves – to our selfishness, pride, greed, laziness, lust, anger, envy, gluttony – in a word, to our sins. The path to holiness is not always covered with blood, but it always passes through the Way of the Cross – the way of dying to one’s self and rising to new life. By this, the Christian participates in the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ.

The ultimate joy of any disciple is to become like his master. Jesus is our Master; our ultimate joy is to become like Him. And the saints are models for us to persevere and not to lose hope despite our weaknesses. St. Bernard Clairvaux wrote: “When I think of the saints, I feel the desire to be like them is ignited in me.” St. Ignatius of Loyola has this: “If St. Francis of Assisi or St. Dominic could do it, I am certain that I could do it even better.” The more we look at the saints, the more we grow in the longing to live in God and with God. Holiness is contagious.

Let us be saints together. Let us help one another to be holy. Let us contaminate one another with holiness.

What then is holiness? Holiness is the perfection of charity. The more loving you are the more holy you are. When we strive to love as Jesus loves, we are giving witness to the Kingdom of God; we are martyrs; we are saints. Listen to what St. John the Evangelist wrote: “Beloved, let us love one another because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten of God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love…and whoever lives in love lives in God and God in him” (1 John 4:7-8,16). If to be a saint means to belong to God, then, indeed, it means to love. If to be a saint means to know God, then, indeed, it means to love. If to be a saint means to share the same address with God, then, yes, indeed, it means to love. As Jesus Himself exemplified to us, our love must be seen in the good deeds of our day-to-day living. And “good” here means sacrificial and life-giving, as Jesus showed us by putting His life on the line, dying for us so that we may live truly and fully.

There is a long queue of celebrity wannabes today, but the line of aspiring saints is short. There is a fierce fight for power today in all its forms, but outdoing one another in love is lukewarm on many counts. There is a consuming enthusiasm for changing trends, but the unchanging call to holiness is ignored by not a few. The twin celebration today and tomorrow – the Solemnity of All Saints and the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed – gives us a lesson we must never forget in the midst of all the ironies of life: as St. John of the Cross said, “At the twilight of life, we shall be judged on love.”


At 4:40 AM , Anonymous gbmr said...

nice profile picture, you look good!

At 6:07 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very informative homily last Sunday.
Hope that other priests are also prepared like you in delivering their homilies specially in sunday masses.
I appreciate the Solemn High Mass that you celebrate every Sunday. It's rare to find a church/parish that has a high mass every sunday.


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