From Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI:
The Church’s experience shows that every form of holiness, even if it follows different paths, always passes through the Way of the Cross, the way of self-denial. The Saints’ biographies describe men and women who, docile to the divine plan, sometimes faced unspeakable trials and suffering, persecution and martyrdom. They persevered in their commitment: “they… have come out of the great tribulation”, one reads in Revelation, “they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rv 7: 14). Their names are written in the book of life (cf. Rv 20: 12) and Heaven is their eternal dwelling-place.
The example of the Saints encourages us to follow in their same footsteps and to experience the joy of those who trust in God, for the one true cause of sorrow and unhappiness for men and women is to live far from him.
Holiness demands a constant effort, but it is possible for everyone because, rather than a human effort, it is first and foremost a gift of God, thrice Holy (cf. Is 6: 3). In the second reading, the Apostle John remarks: “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (I Jn 3: 1).
It is God, therefore, who loved us first and made us his adoptive sons in Jesus. Everything in our lives is a gift of his love: how can we be indifferent before such a great mystery? How can we not respond to the Heavenly Father’s love by living as grateful children? In Christ, he gave us the gift of his entire self and calls us to a personal and profound relationship with him.
Consequently, the more we imitate Jesus and remain united to him the more we enter into the mystery of his divine holiness. We discover that he loves us infinitely, and this prompts us in turn to love our brethren. Loving always entails an act of self-denial, “losing ourselves”, and it is precisely this that makes us happy.
On today’s Solemnity of All Saints, our hearts are dilated to the dimensions of Heaven, exceeding the limits of time and space. At the beginning of Christianity, the members of the Church were also called “saints”. In his First Letter to the Corinthians, St Paul addresses “those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Cor 1: 2). Indeed, Christians are already saints because Baptism unites them to Jesus and to his Paschal Mystery, but at the same time they must become so by conforming themselves every more closely to him. Sometimes, people think that holiness is a privileged condition reserved for the few elect. Actually, becoming holy is every Christian’s task, indeed, we could say, every person’s! The Apostle writes that God has always blessed us and has chosen us in Christ “that we should be holy and blameless before him… in love” (Eph 1: 3-5). All human beings are therefore called to holiness, which ultimately consists in living as children of God, in that “likeness” with him in accordance with which they were created. All human beings are children of God and all must becomewhat they are by means of the demanding process of freedom. God invites everyone to belong to his holy people. The “Way” is Christ, the Son, the Holy One of God: “no one comes to the Father but by me [Jesus]” (cf. Jn 14: 6).
The Church has wisely placed in close succession the Feast of All Saints and All Souls’ Day. Our prayer of praise to God and veneration of the blessed spirits which today’s liturgy presents to us as “a great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues” (Rv 7: 9), is united with prayers of suffrage for all who have preceded us in passing from this world to eternal life. Tomorrow, we shall be dedicating our prayers to them in a special way and we will celebrate the Eucharistic Sacrifice for them. To tell the truth, the Church invites us to pray for them every day, also offering our daily sufferings and efforts so that, completely purified, they may be admitted to the eternal joy of light and peace in the Lord.
Today we have the joy of meeting on the Solemnity of All Saints. This feast day helps us to reflect on the double horizon of humanity, which we symbolically express with the words “earth” and “heaven”: the earth represents the journey of history, heaven eternity, the fullness of life in God. And so this feast day helps us to think about the Church in its dual dimension: the Church journeying in time and the Church that celebrates the never-ending feast, the heavenly Jerusalem. These two dimensions are united by the reality of the “Communion of Saints”: a reality that begins here on earth and that reaches its fulfillment in heaven.
On earth, the Church is the beginning of this mystery of communion that unites humanity, a mystery totally centred on Jesus Christ: it is he who introduced this new dynamic to mankind, a movement that leads towards God and at the same time towards unity, towards peace in its deepest sense. Jesus Christ — says the Gospel of John (11:52) — died “to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad”, and his work continues in the Church which is inseparably “one”, “holy” and “catholic”. Being a Christian, being part of the Church means being open to this communion, like a seed that dies in the ground, germinates and sprouts upwards, toward heaven.
The Saints — those proclaimed by the Church and whom we celebrate today and also those known only to God — have lived this dynamic intensely. In each of them, in a very personal way, Christ made himself present, thanks to his Spirit which acts through Scripture and the Sacraments. In fact, being united to Christ, in the Church, does not negate one’s personality, but opens it, transforms it with the power of love, and confers on it, already here on earth, an eternal dimension.
In essence, it means being conformed to the image of the Son of God (cf. Rom 8:29), fulfilling the plan of God who created man in his own image and likeness. But this insertion in Christ also opens us — as I said — to communion with all the other members of his Mystical Body which is the Church, a communion that is perfect in “Heaven”, where there is no isolation, no competition or separation. In today’s feast, we have a foretaste of the beauty of this life fully open to the gaze of love of God and neighbour, in which we are sure to reach God in each other and each other in God. With this faith-filled hope we honour all the Saints, and we prepare to commemorate the faithful departed tomorrow. In the Saints we see the victory of love over selfishness and death: we see that following Christ leads to life, eternal life, and gives meaning to the present, every moment that passes, because it is filled with love and hope. Only faith in eternal life makes us truly love history and the present, but without attachment, with the freedom of the pilgrim, who loves the earth because his heart is set on Heaven.