There are some people who want to live forever, and for those with more money than sense they can pay a cryogenics facility a huge sum of money to have their body frozen in the hope that science will, one day in the future, conquer the disease that brought about their death.
You may have heard the anecdote about the man who had his body frozen, and then after fifty years he was revived and cured of his disease. The first thing he did was go to the nearest public telephone box and called his stockbroker who informed him that his shares were now worth £50 million. He was delighted, but suddenly the call was interrupted by the operator who said: “Your time is up, if you want to continue the call please put a £1 million coin in the slot.”
None of us really wants to die and yet we must all face death, it’s a fact of life, it’s something we can’t escape, and it’s something we should prepare for. And the belief of Christians is that when we die we face the judgement of Almighty God.
Death is the ultimate moment of truth in our lives. We meet God face to face, we are confronted with the way we have lived our lives, and we are invited to respond to the love and mercy of God and so experience his salvation.
Perhaps we haven’t lived very saintly lives and we may need a period of purification before we can enter heaven in all its fullness. But we know that because we have repented of our sins we will get there, and we will enjoy that blessed state in heaven.
Every year on the 1st November we rejoice in the multitude of holy people whom the Church has recognised as having lived holy lives worthy of imitation. And because it’s the feast of All Saints it’s the feast of those many more hidden saints whose lives of simplicity and devotion are seen only by God.
Today we reflect upon and take joy in the Church Triumphant: the countless number of Christians throughout history who have followed Christ and who have, by his grace, overcome sin and achieved personal holiness and so in time entered into glory.
During his long papacy Pope John Paul II, now himself a saint, canonised almost 500 saints and presided at over 1,300 beatifications. His motivation in doing this was very clear. He wanted people to have modern examples of sanctity; real people who can show us how to live our lives in a way that is in harmony with God.
When I was a student in Rome I had the opportunity to visit the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, and I remember being told that the Congregation first gives priority to possible saints from countries which don’t yet have any canonised saints, then to lay people and especially to married people. This is only right; there are already hundreds of priests and nuns and founders of religious societies who have been canonised. But what we need is to see people like ourselves being canonised, saints we can readily identify with.
Pope John Paul II said that, first and foremost, all these canonisations and beatifications draw attention to the action of God’s grace in the world. With so much bad news around here is something that is entirely good news in every sense of the word.
The aim of each Christian ought to be to live a holy life: to strive for perfection, to model our lives on Christ, and in so doing fulfil his wishes for us.
Sin certainly has its glamour and we are all attracted by it and we are all of us at times weak and give in to its temptations. But sin is ultimately unfulfilling and shallow. When stripped down to its basics sin is entirely negative, all sin is harmful, and all sin drags us down to a lower level of existence.
But holiness, even if at first sight it 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 neighbour; it is a life which leads us onwards and upwards. It is a more fully human life. It is the life for which we were made, and are therefore certainly capable of living.
Now when I speak of holiness I’m not talking about a sugary, sickly kind of piety. In English the words holiness and wholeness are pronounced in a similar way. And we can take a clue from this. A holy person is not necessarily pious.
But if we think about wholeness in the sense of being a rounded and fully human being, then I think we are getting there. A saint is someone who is striving to become the person God wants them to be; and in that sense is fully human.
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.
Today we rejoice in this great feast of All the Saints and we celebrate this Mass in their honour. Let us also rededicate ourselves to Christ and implore him to pour out his Holy Spirit upon us so that we too might reach heaven, and by the holiness of our lives bring ever more glory to his most Holy Name.