Friday, October 28, 2016

The Feast of All Saints by Fr. Sean Connolly


Feast of All Saints

Fr. Seán Connolly
Signum Crucis

When the Pagan, and pre-Christian Roman Empire had completed its conquest of the ancient world, she dedicated to all the gods in token of her gratitude, the glorious structure of the Pantheon, that most durable monument of her power, which still stands today. But when she herself had been conquered by Christ, that upstart religion begun by a meager carpenter from the Galilee, Rome withdrew her homage from the vain idols of all the gods and rededicated the Pantheon to all the martyrs who had been killed for professing faith in the One True God and whom He sent, the Lord Jesus Christ.

For centuries, the catacombs on the outskirts of Rome had been the resting-place of these martyrs-Our Lords athletes who died in the arena of the Coliseum and Circus Maximus. But these valiant warriors for the Lord were deserving of the honors of a triumph far more than the Roman centurions who had slain them. And so, after the conversion of the Empire to the Christian faith, the city of Romes bishop, Pope Boniface IV, in the year 609 presented himself at the entrance to the catacombs surrounded by an immense crowd. The successor of the martyr and first pope, Saint Peter, was there in all apostolic majesty to take in procession the many relics contained of the early Christian martyrs to their new home of the Pantheon.

The Pope was attended by 28 chariots magnificently adorned to carry the relics through the City from the catacombs to the Pantheon. Before the relics were loaded to the chariots and the ritual procession began, the Holy Father exclaimed: Arise, ye saints of God, come forth from your hiding places; enter into Rome, which is now the holy city; bless the Roman people following you to the temple of the false gods, which is now dedicated as your own church, there to adore together with you the majesty of the Lord.

Thus, after centuries of persecution, the martyrs finally had the last word. The City of Rome, once the capital of the world drunk with the blood of Christians, now burned the sameincense before the martyrs of Christ the martyrs themselves, had refused to offer to the false gods. The Temple which had been built by Marcus Agrippa and dedicated to all the pagan gods, was now consecrated a church dedicated to the Virgin Mary and all the Christian Martyrs.

The dedication of this now Christian Basilica, became a feast day celebrated in various areas throughout the Church at this time, but by the mid-ninth century was extended by Pope Gregory IV to the entire Catholic world and modified to include not just the holy martyrs, but all saints. 
These are the origins of the feast we celebrate today, when Holy Church commemorates all the saints in heaven, without exception, and thus honors also those who are unknown to us, those who have not been formally canonized and have no public recognition in the liturgy.

This holy tradition as we heard, was begun by our ancestors in the Christian faith of ancient Rome, who took such a holy pride in the saints-those whose love for God transformed their lives and even made them willing to go to their deaths proclaiming their faith in the Lord Christ.

These ancestors of ours lived in a brutal pre-Christian world where life was cheap and the Lord Jesus rejected. During these trying times our ancestors in the faith instituted the feast we celebrate today, to look to the saints and martyrs for inspiration and to ask for their prayers from heaven so they themselves may persevere in the faith like the saints had done before them.

Our ancestors in the faith were so fervently devoted to the saints in immensely difficult times...and we have their example for our own benefit. It wouldnt be an exaggeration to say we are living in similar times than our Catholic ancestors in the ancient Roman world. While theirs was a pre-Christian paganism, our world today can be described as a post-Christian paganism. While we in this country are not being physically persecuted against, our Christian brothers and sisters in Nigeria, Syria and throughout practically the whole Middles East are being dreadfully persecuted against-torched churches, crucifixions, slavery.

In our own country, we are materially comfortable, we are safe bodily, but in our society today though we have comforts previous generations lacked, we have many more spiritual perils to endure where it is not easy for us to get out of this life loving God and in His friendship.

Our society is not terrorized by the sword of Nero or Diocletian, but rather by the pen of men like Marx and Freud. We live in a world that no longer exults the Beatitudes taught by Christ our Savior in His Sermon on the Mount, but a world that sees His beautiful teachings on poverty, meekness, justice, mercy, peace and purity of heart as impractical and silly. We live in a world whose belief in that most supreme virtue of holy charity---of love, is thwarted, into being a love not directed towards the other, but to the self. 

Yet, in the midst of it all, there is still in this world, apparently sunk and immersed in the worship of the individual, our Holy Church, from the time of the institution of todays feast till today, which in response to the idols of celebrity, counters with exulting the lives of the saints-the band of chosen souls who have received the crown of eternal glory-whose lives were lived not for themselves but for God and their fellow man, whose words and deeds were so permeated by their thirst for heaven and its pure air-that their examples exercise an irresistible and reassuring fascination to us.

Why do we Catholics venerate them so greatly? Why is it that the stories of their lives can move us even to tears? Why do they, so quickly conquer our hearts and take first place in our affections? This is so, because we inherently sense in them, the presence of God at work in our world. We sense that the love present in a saints heart is the nearest thing to the sight of God we know. For the saints throughout the ages never lived by any other ideal, than the Beatitudes taught by Our Lord. The stories of their lives throughout the ages have been but one prolonged echo of Christs teachings in the Gospels.

And so like our ancestors who lived in dreadful times of persecution under the Roman Empire, who with such zeal venerated the saints and made constant recourse to them, so must we today. We must use the saints, as lighthouses, which serve to guide and cheer us on in the midst of the darknesss and dangers of this life.

Remember that this life is short. The whole reason God created us is to know and love Him in this world, but also to be happy with him in the next! The saints are our connection to the next world. They stand before the Throne of God praying for us. Never fail to make recourse to them and to ponder the profound realties that the Church sets before us on this feast. Grow in your devotion to the saints, pray to them, name your children after them, read their lives...and know that above the unhealthy marshes and filth of the world, stretches an immense heaven of beauty where they intercede for us. It is the heaven which fascinated the saints; the heaven to which they longed to ascend by the only road that leads there, for there is only one road, which is, the Catholic religion, the love of Christ, and the heroic observance of His Beatitudes.

We greet you, O beautiful and lovable Saints! Look down from your glory on this people, which loves you, which venerates, glorifies and exalts you. To you, therefore, powerful intercessors with the Lamb of God, we entrust ourselves. We are desirous of imitating your strength of faith and your inviolate purity of conduct. In your intercession, we find a safe refuge, trusting that we shall be protected from every contamination, and be able to walk in the way of the Master, Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Mary, Queen of all Saints, pray for us.
Signum Crucis

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