This past week, baseball fans were treated to another installment of the Fall Classic known as the World Series. As in other major sports, the quest for a championship is the ultimate sign of success for a team in any given season. The winner may not have had the best regular season record, but they are still recognized as the best team because of their triumph when the stakes were the highest. As far as individual success goes, the ultimate honor for an athlete is to be inducted into a Hall of Fame, a distinction which recognizes a career marked by excellence and achievement. Being inducted into that hallowed hall is an opportunity to celebrate that individual and to provide an opportunity for family and fans to join in that celebration as a sign of gratitude for that player’s contribution to that sport.
Today, as Church, we have our own version of the Hall of Fame as we celebrate the Solemnity of All Saints. We recognize all those who have entered into that place of great honor — Heaven. Though the concept of the Hall of Fame offers some parallels to help us see the significance of this feast in the life of the Church, there are differences highlighting the unique nature of this concept of our faith known as the Communion of Saints, for all
the saints in Heaven are those who have excelled in their career as disciples of Jesus. They have used their God-given gifts in a way similar to athletes whose skills benefit their teams.
In the Hall of Fame, there’s a process recognizing certain individuals for their heroic virtue and witness to the faith. The Church’s recognition, similar to a Hall of Fame induction, takes place at the canonization, during which the Church confirms that the saint is actually in Heaven. Such a celebration is a cause for great rejoicing for all the Church, often drawing thousands of the faithful who join in that celebration.
Though there’s a formal process for recognizing that a saint is indeed in heaven, it’s not like the Hall of Fame, where a person is voted in by a committee. It is God, the Eternal Judge, who alone elects to welcome one of His servants to be with Him. As a result, there are saints in Heaven of whom we are unaware. St. John speaks of a “great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue” (Rev. 7:9). Those whom the Church has recognized formally are but a portion of those who have been elected by Christ to share in the victory of eternal life. This is at the heart of our celebration of All Saints Day. We honor all of the saints whom God, in his great love and mercy, has admitted. It gives us great hope, then, that it’s God and not man who is our judge. To those who submit to His mercy and don’t reject His offer for eternal life, the Lord is indeed “gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in mercy” (Psalm 145:8).
There are many saints in heaven whom the world considered a failure. They toiled day in and day out without any tangible signs of success. Many were despised or rejected by those around them; but in God’s eyes, they were faithful to Him and His will, despite a supposed lack of results. Jesus makes this point clearly in the Sermon on the Mount. He calls blessed those who go through life in a way that seems opposed to earthly success and happiness. What seems to be undesirable and unattractive to the world is precious in God’s eyes. As a result, there are many saints who have lived lives of great sanctity in the world and have found rest and peace in the Kingdom of Heaven. This should give encouragement and hope that we don’t necessarily have to do great things to be recognized by others. Our sole aim should be to remain faithful to what the Lord has given to us, desiring to please Him alone. It also reminds us that even if we suffer, are persecuted, ignored or forgotten by the world around us, we will never escape the loving gaze of our Father in Heaven who has a great love for the humble and those who the world considers to be of little importance. Many have achieved Heaven in this simple, hidden way, and their joy is complete, for they don’t need our praise, but are totally content with gazing upon the Lord for all of eternity. This should be our ultimate desire as well.
A final point of comparison with the Hall of Famers is that they are usually only considered after retirement, when the person is no longer physically capable of continuing to play the game. This is also the case with the saints. They don’t enter Heaven until they’ve “retired” from this life, when their earthly bodies can no longer continue, and death has arrived. But, there’s a significant difference of great importance for our understanding of the communion of saints. Unlike athletes no longer able to do great things in their sport after their retirement, those who have left this earthly life for Heaven don’t suffer the same fate. Once they are in Heaven, they are able to be far more effective than ever. Not limited by bodies, space or time, they enjoy the freedom to do remarkable things for us on earth.
As one preface for a Funeral Mass for the Dead reminds us: “Indeed for your faithful, Lord, life is changed not ended.” Our relationship with those who have passed away endures past death, and our bond with those who are in Heaven is stronger than ever. Their great love for us and their desire to have us join them in Heaven prompts them to intercede before God day and night for our needs. It is humbling to think how good the Lord is in granting us so many intercessors to aid us in our journey. It’s good for us to call on them regularly, trusting that they will ask God for what we are most in need of in order to advance us closer to our destiny in Heaven.
As at each Mass we are united through the Eucharistic sacrifice with those who have gone before us and are already in Heaven, we are also united with those in Purgatory who await their entrance into Heaven after their purification. When we pray for them in a special way on Monday, All Souls Day, may we remember them at each Mass, and pray for them as our greatest gift to them. At Mass, when we worthily receive the Eucharist, we are strengthened by it, along with the prayers of the saints in Heaven, so that at the end of our life, we may be welcomed by the Lord to join them for eternity.