Tony van Vuuren
Holiness is not a fashionable word; it doesn’t come up in conversation much these days. If you asked someone what personal quality they would like to acquire it is unlikely that you would hear anyone saying holiness. And yet, at least for us Christians, attaining holiness ought to be our greatest goal in life.
The aim of each Christian ought to be to live a holy life—to strive for perfection, to model our lives on Jesus; to fulfil his wishes for us as He has laid them out for us in the Eight Beatitudes. A sort of Charter for the followers of Christ. After all, can there be a more fulfilling sort of a life?
When we speak of holiness though, we are not talking about a sugary, sickly kind of piety. In the English language the words holiness and wholeness are pronounced in a similar way. We can take a clue from this. A holy person is not necessarily pious, nor perfect in every particular way of life.
But if we think about wholeness in the sense of being a rounded and fully human being then we begin to get the idea.
We are celebrating the feast of All Saints this weekend; not just canonized Saints, but all those who enjoy the happiness of heaven, whether canonized or not, a great cloud of witnesses to the truth of the Gospel; and we pray that our loved ones, relatives and friends are among the saints of heaven enjoying the happiness promised by the Beatitudes.
This important feast is established for two purposes: 1) to thank God for having completed the salvation of so many who have gone before us throughout the world and 2) to encourage us to persevere in our faith and to remain faithful to Christ in spite of all the temptations we face.
Sin has its glamour and we are all attracted by it and there are inevitably times that we weaken and give in to its temptations. But sin is ultimately unfulfilling and shallow. When stripped down to its basics; all sin is negative, all sin is hurtful, sin drags us down to a lower level of existence.
But holiness, even if at first sight doesn’t appear to be glamorous, is entirely positive and fulfilling. Holiness leads to greatness, to love, to hope and ultimately to glory. A holy life is a life lived in harmony with God and our fellow man. It is a more fully human life. It is the life for which we were made and are therefore certainly capable of living.
The saints have shown us where to go; our task is to follow them.
They teach us that holiness is about how we live the detail, about how we live the tiniest moments of each day. They teach us that holiness is about substituting good habits for bad ones. They teach us that holiness requires discipline and perseverance. They teach us that above all, holiness is merely another name for a life lived in love.
The saints are not simply heroes of the faith, great martyrs and confessors, wonderful examples of the Christian life. They are much more than this. It is not simply the life they lived on earth that is important, so also is the life they live now in heaven.
In heaven they continue to be part of the Church; the Communion of Saints, the community of Christ’s followers—those on earth and those in heaven. The prayer of the Church is not merely the sum of all of our personal prayers and the Divine Liturgy; it includes also the prayers of the saints in heaven.
One of our wonderful, albeit sometimes neglected, Christian doctrines is our belief in the Communion of Saints. It is a doctrine closely associated with our understanding of the Mystical Body of Christ. The Church is one and its members, whether in heaven, on earth or in purgatory are united in Christ. It is a doctrine that is enshrined in the creed itself and asks us to believe that we are still in vital communication with those who have died.
The Communion of Saints is comprised of the Church Militant, which is those alive on earth; those of us here present at mass; the Church Penitent, which is made up of those undergoing purification in Purgatory in preparation for heaven; and the Church Triumphant, which consists of the saints already rejoicing with God in heaven.
This weekend we celebrate the Church Triumphant. Friday evening, at All Souls, we remembered the Church Penitent, the Faithful Departed.
Many Protestant Christians still find the Catholic custom of praying to the saints quite a problem. They see the saints as ‘getting in the way’ between us and God and feel more comfortable praying to God directly.
The theological difficulties come from the assumption that we pray to the saints instead of praying to Christ. The accusation is that of idolatry; especially in view of the stained glass windows, statues and icons of the saints that are found in our Churches.
The Catholic position regarding prayer to the saints has not changed one iota over the centuries.
It is simply this: that we ask the saints to aid us with their prayers. We pray directly to the Father through Christ but we also ask the saints, especially Mary, to pray with us. It is on the same level as asking our friends to pray for a particular intention except that since the saints are in heaven we feel that their prayers are somewhat stronger than our own.
These outstanding men and women are one with us in praising and thanking God. They also intercede on our behalf adding their prayers of intercession to ours. It is only right that when we have something particularly difficult to pray for that we should not hesitate to turn to them for assistance.
As Catholics we feel a fellowship and closeness with the saints and take comfort in the stories of their lives and often have particular favourites among the saints. It is common enough to invoke the aid of one saint rather than another for particular requests. St Jude, who seems to specialise in hopeless cases, probably gets the most requests of all. St Anthony of Padua is another favourite, especially for finding lost things—but he is possibly in cahoots with St Vincent de Paul because it often seems he won’t help until we have given something to the poor!
A secular person tends to see only what is around them, but to the Catholic there is another world, which we cannot see with our human eyes, but which we know is all around us. It is the world of the spiritual. God and His saints surround us and we perceive them only inwardly.
This great feast of All Saints reminds us how close this spiritual world is to us and indeed how much we depend on it.
Heaven is our true home and the road to heaven is the road of holiness; it is the road the saints have travelled before us. Let us take heart from them and press on towards our goal!
Ref: Fr Alex