1 November 2022
Today we celebrate with Christians all around the world the Feast of All Saints.[i] During the early centuries of the Church, Christians were being martyred, and after the number had exceeded 365, they combined their remembrance in a single feast. As we’re reminded of them today, may we be inspired by their lives.
Run the race
In the modern Olympic Games, thousands of athletes from more than 200 countries compete in various summer and winter sports. They don’t decide to participate only a month before, but train for years. Some gymnasts practice eight hours per day; they give the best they can and are spectacular to watch. They hone their talent and try to perfect it. Tennis is more a mental than a physical game, but Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and others play at the very top of their sport because they practice every day.
Saint Paul likens the life of a Christian to a race (I Corinthians 9:24-27). It takes a lot of discipline for athletes to prepare themselves and one day compete – it’s not for the weak. If you don’t have discipline, you should not do it, because it demands so much. Paul uses the metaphor of an athlete and the understanding of competing in a race – not that we should finish first, but what matters is that we all finish. Sadly, some begin well in their Christian life but don’t end well; others start badly but end well.
According to the Church Fathers, there is no crown for the athlete who lacks effort; it’s not enough to pretend to believe and sit back passively. When we leave our homes in the morning, we face challenges and dangers in life. As in a war, if we prefer the comfort of our living room, we won’t get shot at, but eventually we will disintegrate, like a brand new house that remains uninhabited. We need to be active, enabled by the grace of God, and fight against the powers of evil, with deeds, not words. Today we remember those who have gone ahead of us, who have finished the race and fought the good fight of faith.
Why honour the saints?
Bernard of Clairvaux asked whether the saints deserve honour. We consider that they deserve honour and remembrance for living godly lives, letting go of their love for the world and self, and loving God until the end.
“What profit is there for them to receive honour from us? What do they care about earthly honour, when the heavenly Father honours them by fulfilling the faithful promise of the Son?”
What does honour mean to them? Would it really tip the scale? Bernard says the saints need no honour from us nor our devotion; it adds nothing to what is already theirs. They are enjoying the vision of God in heaven, along with the angels and all who have died in God’s friendship. Do they need our prayers? Most likely not. But we need their prayers and intercessions. The saints who have gone ahead of us learned obedience through what they suffered, like our Lord, followed in His footsteps, and loved not their lives even unto death. They desired not what the world could offer, but chose to believe in, aim for, and strive to acquire what God has promised.
Maximilian Maria Kolbe was a Polish Catholic priest and Franciscan friar who died in Auschwitz concentration camp. He met a man called Franciszek Gajowniczek, a Roman Catholic who was married with two sons, a professional soldier who was captured during the war. When a prisoner tried to escape, the Camp Commander would call ten others at random and kill them. On one occasion Gajowniczek was selected, and in agony he cried over the fate of his family and his children. Kolbe offered himself to be killed instead. On 10 October 1982 Pope John Paul II canonised Maximilian Kolbe and declared him a martyr of charity.
Fight the good fight of faith
Some contemporary Christians engage in unbiblical beliefs and practices, and some think that when you become a Christian you don’t really have problems. The truth is that Christians also encounter problems; but God is with us, and that is a big difference.
Timothy was a sickly young man who had many challenges, but he was also a man of faith. Saint Paul wrote to encourage him:
“Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.”[ii]
Christianity is not a 100-metre dash that after a few seconds is over and you have the crown – it’s totally the opposite: a marathon. We need to prepare for it and learn how to take steps every day, one at a time. Some Christians begin with exuberance, but it’s short-lived. Consider the parable of the sower: When the Word is planted, we become excited; but when persecution arises, what happens?
The Lord is teaching us to look to those who have gone ahead of us, because they have encountered the same things that we do; and the next generation will also encounter the same things. Sometimes I picture the devil as a party-goer wearing masks; for every generation he puts on a different mask, but it’s the same devil inside.
Saint Paul told Timothy that a soldier, like an athlete, lives a very disciplined life (living in a different place, the barracks, eating another diet), and is not involved in everyday affairs of life.[iii] He likened the Christian life to that of a soldier. He also said,
“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”[iv]
To be a Christian is more than struggling for one’s preservation; it is preparing oneself, wielding power and strength, trusting in God’s grace and mercy. We do so because we come against those who would try to corrupt the soul, who rejoice in our apostasy, and through deception lead many to rebellion. Christianity is not for the weak but the courageous.
Martin Luther King said,
“Darkness cannot drive away darkness – only light can do that. Hate cannot drive away hate – only love can do that.”
Christians are in a fight, but we have a different set of weapons.
“Our weapon is love. When someone hates you, love all the more, because love is our weapon.”
It’s effortless to go with the flow and obsessively follow one’s impulses; but according to today’s Gospel (Matthew 25:31-40), we’re to follow our Lord and serve others, and to be rich not in material things but in acts of mercy.
Be rich in mercy
The Scriptures and the Church Fathers don’t necessarily shun riches. Zacchaeus was a rich man, and Jesus, using hyperbole, said it is difficult for a rich man to enter God’s Kingdom:
“It is easier for a camel to enter through the hole of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God”.[v]
He did not say it is impossible; we need to put this in the right perspective. It’s difficult because of the false security that material wealth gives us. This is why our Lord and the Church Fathers were very concerned about how to handle riches. If you can handle it, good for you. It’s not that we shouldn’t enjoy life; but this is only a trickle of true enjoyment. The love we experience between a husband and wife, father and children, and from each other, is a shadow of the real love we will experience one day in the presence of God.
We need not so much to be rich in material things, as to be richer in acts of mercy. When God sends someone for you to help, never miss the opportunity. You never know – it may be an angel that God has sent to you.
Jesus on the road to Damascus made it very personal: He asked Saul of Tarsus,
“Why are you persecuting Me?”[vi]
He also said,
“What you have done to the least of My disciples, you have done it to Me.”[vii]
It’s easy to love and serve people we like, but there is something more profound: to do things not for our sake or for those from whom we can expect something in return, but for Christ’s sake: on His behalf and in His name.
Practice not only on Sunday but every day
Many of us struggle in our walk with Christ; we struggle with self, the world, and the enemy. As much as I appreciate people who come to church on Sunday, we must come to a realization that Sunday Mass alone is not enough. We need to walk with God on an everyday basis, to know Christ in His Word, to immerse ourselves in the Apostles’ teaching, to encounter Christ in the Eucharist, to fellowship…
Fellowship is beyond an agape meal. Paul speaks of the fellowship of Christ’s suffering.[viii] To fellowship with one another doesn’t mean having a party – in a deeper sense, when someone is struggling, you fellowship with them in their struggles. To suffer with those who suffer and rejoice with those who rejoice[ix] is the true meaning of fellowship.
…We also need to embrace prayer: that is when we talk to God and God talks to us. Let us focus more on what is important for our spirituality.
As an athlete, practising every Sunday, so to speak, is not sufficient – it must be every day. We need to be prepared, and to prioritise. Don’t spend too much time with Facebook – spend more time in Gods’ book; here is what you need in order to finish the race that is set before us as our forebears did. In times of struggles they were not dejected or discouraged, but all the more they clung to Christ. It’s one step at a time.
During the Camino, the Lord gave me a personal word:
“…looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith…”[x]
Some Christians start well but don’t end well. We need to end well, and the prayers of the saints are for us to end well, to fight the good fight of faith. We also need to learn to handle our weapons, otherwise we’ll easily succumb to whatever comes our way.
Prayer of Saint Thomas Aquinas for ordering life wisely
O merciful God, grant that I may desire ardently, search prudently, recognize truly, and bring to perfect completion whatever is pleasing to You for the praise and glory of Your name.
Put my life in order, O my God.
Grant that I may know what You require me to do.
Bestow upon me the power to accomplish Your will, as is necessary and fitting for the salvation of my soul.
Grant to me, O Lord my God, that I may not falter in times of prosperity or adversity, so that I may not be exalted in the former, nor dejected in the latter.
May I not rejoice in anything unless it leads me to You; may I not be saddened by anything unless it turns me from You.
May I desire to please no one, nor fear to displease anyone, but You.
May all transitory things, O Lord, be worthless to me and may all things eternal be ever cherished by me.
May any joy without You be burdensome for me and may I not desire anything else besides You.
May all work, O Lord, delight me when done for Your sake and may all repose not centred in You be ever wearisome for me.
Grant unto me, my God, that I may direct my heart to You and that in my failures I may ever feel remorse for my sins and never lose the resolve to change.
O Lord my God, make me submissive without protest, poor without discouragement, chaste without regret, patient without complaint, humble without posturing, cheerful without frivolity, mature without gloom, and quick-witted without flippancy.
O Lord my God, let me fear You without losing hope, be truthful without guile, do good works without presumption, rebuke my neighbour without haughtiness, and—without hypocrisy—strengthen him by word and example.
Give to me, O Lord God, a watchful heart, which no capricious thought can lure away from You.
Give to me a noble heart, which no unworthy desire can debase.
Give to me a resolute heart, which no evil intention can divert.
Give to me a stalwart heart, which no tribulation can overcome.
Give to me a temperate heart, which no violent passion can enslave.
Give to me, O Lord my God, understanding of You, diligence in seeking You, wisdom in finding You, discourse ever pleasing to You, perseverance in waiting for You, and confidence in finally embracing You.
Grant that through penance I may be afflicted by Your hardships now, through grace I may rely on Your blessings on the way, and in glory I may enjoy You fully in the Kingdom of Heaven.
You Who live and reign, God, world without end. Amen.
I encourage you to pray this daily.
“Lex orandi est lex credendi”:
What you pray, you end up believing. When something has happened, I pray this, and it has helped me a lot. Pray this in the subway and whenever you need it. When you turn your eyes to the Lord, God becomes closer to you.
God is hearing our prayers: Pray for Europe
Recently I walked the Camino to Santiago de Compostela; it was the hardest I’ve experienced. During the evening Mass the huge thurible was used, and I could hardly hold back my tears. Europe is spiritually deserted, and many people have lost their faith in God. I was thankful for the pilgrims who were walking and praying the Rosary; the Camino is a metaphor of life. As this huge censer was swung, I was reminded that God is hearing the prayers of His people; He will never abandon us.
Pray with me for a home for our church where we can swing the censer; the incense is the prayers of the people.[xi] God will hear our prayers, not only for ourselves and our families, but prayers that will touch this continent and the generations to come. It is not a human battle but a spiritual battle, and God has given us weapons, one of which is prayer. It may seem possible, but nothing is impossible with God.
We want to let the smoke go up, and let our prayers change the landscape of this continent: this continent needs our prayers. God did not bring you here only to provide for your families; He has a more noble plan for you. In many French churches, Africans are celebrating the Eucharist, as are Latin Americans in Spain: the whole terrain is changing. I believe the reason why there are immigrants in Europe, especially Christians, is for us to be a part of what God is doing in the earth: bringing revival in this continent. You didn’t come here for money but because God brought you here, and there’s something He wants us to do, a privilege we have: to fight the good fight of faith on behalf of Europe.
- Do you see the Christian life as a race? Do you have the discipline required to live it? What are you doing to train yourself and help to train others in godliness and perseverance? Is there more that God is calling you to do?
- Are you active or passive regarding the good fight of faith? Do you see life, especially the Christian life, as a battle? Are you trying to avoid the battle, or engaging in it willingly? In what ways can avoidance be harmful? In what ways are you fighting the battle? In what ways is God calling you to fight?
- Are you drawn more to the blessings of the present life, or to the eternal blessings of which they are a shadow? Are you more concerned about enjoying material riches or about being rich in showing mercy and helping to meet the needs of others?
- Are you practising the Christian life on Sundays only or a weekly basis? Do you think this is necessary or unnecessary, and why? What steps is God calling you to take to grow in this?
- What is your understanding of fellowship? Are you experiencing and practising the kind of fellowship described here, especially in the church to which you belong? If not, why not, and what is God calling you to do about it?
- Do you see your purpose in life more as earning money to support yourself and your family, or as part of God’s mission to bring spiritual revival in the place where you are living? What is your part in that mission, and have you, your family, and your church started to take your place in it?
[i] Whilst in some countries All Saints’ and All Souls’ days are combined, they’re two different feasts: All Saints on 1 November, and All Souls on 2 November when we entrust those who have passed away, whether Christian or not, into the hands of God’s mercy.
[ii] I Timothy 6:12, NKJV
[iii] II Timothy 2:2-3
[iv] Ephesians 6:12, NKJV
[v] Luke 18:25
[vi] Acts 9:4
[vii] Matthew 25:40
[viii] Philippians 3:10
[ix] I Corinthians 12:26
[x] Hebrews 12:2, NKJV
[xi] Revelation 5:8