All Saints Day 2013
Leon Bloy, a French Catholic writer once said to a friend that the only real tragedy in life is not to become a saint. Bloy was someone quite unusual in his generation in France. Having been raised a free thinker by his father, and having developed a visceral hatred for Roman Catholicism as a young man, he underwent a deep conversion and became a man of genuine and deep faith who understood through his faith the true greatness for which the human person has been created by God. To miss that greatness, to fail to attain that lofty destiny, said Bloy, is the greatest of all tragedies for man. Man was made for one ultimate purpose – to be a Saint, that is, to be holy as God is holy, and to be with God for all eternity. To fail to achieve that destiny is the most horrible of all human tragedies.
I wonder how many people in Bloy’s day, or our own, would agree with his statement? Or to put it another way, I wonder how many people have sufficient faith to even begin to grasp what Bloy was talking about let alone to agree with it? Just a couple of Sundays back, our Gospel ended with Christ asking a relevant question related to this statement of Bloy’s: But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?
Yes, it takes faith to even begin to desire to become a saint. How strange it is that we could be created for a destiny that we can only know about through the gift of faith. But that is a fact of life. For without faith, we can never really know what man is truly created for as his final goal and fulfilment, and that fact alone should suggest the heights of our calling as God’s creatures, the destiny that totally exceeds our understanding, let alone our capacity as men to attain it! To be a saint, that is our true destiny, determined by God when he created the human race, and if we miss that destiny, it is truly the most awful tragedy, outstripping our capacity to understand, but not our capacity to suffer.
What does it mean to be a saint? It means to acquire the very holiness of God, in so far as a creature can share in that incomparable and infinite goodness. Man is called to a divine destiny, to be elevated by God to share His own life and holiness which is infinitely superior to our human nature, and totally beyond our capacity to acquire through our own powers. And yet we were created for no other final end or purpose, as John said in today’s second reading: See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. Yet so we are. (1 John 3:1)
Not only are we to be God’s children, but we already are His children here and now, sharing by grace in God’s own holiness and life created in our souls by His Spirit in Baptism. And then John tells us that this is only the beginning, “… what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is…” There is what Bloy was talking about, to be a Saint is nothing less than to be conformed to God the Almighty, and thus to be able to see God as God truly is. For only if we are truly remade, recreated, in his holiness can we possibly see God directly, and share the eternal joy of that Beatifying Vision! To fail to attain that destiny is the tragedy, the ultimate tragedy for man.
The notion of tragedy is partially explored in great literature, but only on the level of nature. For instance, a man is born to be a king, and has the talent to be a great king, a great leader, but through his own flaws of character he fails to achieve that destiny and ends up a wretched man let alone a wretched king. That is a form of tragedy to be sure, but one that applies to very few people, and absolutely nothing in comparison to man’s failure to become a saint. Not every person is born to greatness in this world, but absolutely every single human person has been created for an infinitely greater destiny in heaven. Every single human person is called to be not just an earthly ruler like a king or queen, or whatever earth offers in terms of such political greatness, but to become a true child of God, and thus to share in the royal dignity that belongs to God alone. When Leon Bloy says that the only true tragedy is to fail to be a saint, he is not thinking of this tragic element so much in terms of the punishment due to that failure, which is always due to man’s own fatal flaws. No, he is thinking of what was tragically lost, the glory and happiness and royal dignity of Heaven, all of which could have been his or hers had the person not turned away from this destiny by sin and clung to the paltry honors or pleasures of this world.
In truth, everything has been prepared by God for our success. All the primary work is done by Christ, on the Cross, through the Sacraments, through His grace. All we have to do is secondary, to cooperate with this champion of our destiny, and we will attain it. He will teach us the way to Heaven for He is the way, and the goal itself. He teaches us the way in the beatitudes and his commandments, and then he gives us the grace to do what is otherwise impossible, to climb the heights of Heaven, by conquering sin, and our fears of these heights. If only we cling to the life supports of truth and grace, we can reach the summit, and join the great company of saints.
Jesus knew that many men would shy away from their destiny, that they would find the goal of becoming a saint to demanding even though He does most all the work: many are called, few are chosen… How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few. To be among the few who take the road that leads to life, to paradise, to the destiny of being God’s divinized children for all eternity, we must first desire to be a saint far more than anything else in this world, and then we must set out to take whatever means are necessary, whatever means God provides for this to attain the infinite.
The world will surely scoff at us, laugh at us, consider us as mad as it considered the Lord of Glory when he walked this earth. It will trivialize our hope as it trivializes this feast by the silly day before it each year, because the world does not know the true meaning of hallow and its reference to our purpose in this world. But as Jesus kept his eyes and heart fixed on heaven, His true home, and ours too, so must we. And that is what this feast is meant to inspire in us , to lift up our minds and hearts, and recall the purpose of our existence, and remind us that it is possible, because He came among us, and gives us all we need to follow him home.