The Reading from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Hebrews. (11:33-12:2) and from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (10:32-33, 37-38; 19:27-30)
Today we celebrate All Saints day. As you may remember, this feast falls on November 1staccording to the western tradition. Since it falls on November 1stthat makes October 31st All Saints Eve, which is also called All Hallows Eve, from which we get the word Halloween.
According to our tradition, the best time to celebrate this feast is exactly the week after the celebration of Pentecost, the descent of the Holy Spirit. This feast is a culmination of the saving acts of God through His Son Jesus Christ and ultimately the Lord sent to us the Holy Spirit, one of the Holy Trinity in order to change our lives completely, to make us saints.
The Lord says in today’s gospel “Everyone who acknowledges Me before men, I also will acknowledge before My Father Who is in heaven; but whoever denies Me before me, I also will deny before My Father Who is in heaven.” We hear this verse and we might have a vague understanding of what it means to acknowledge the Lord Jesus. But here is the really interesting thing, there is nothing vague about being a saint.
The saint is the one who acknowledges Jesus Christ not simply with his speech or his mannerisms, but with the complete sacrifice of his life. The saint is the one who gives whatever God has asked him to give and when he has done it, he doesn’t then begin to complain, but he goes further to see what more he can do to offer his life to God.
In today’s epistle reading we hear of many references to people who loved God and gave themselves up to all sorts of brutality and suffering. They often had the chance to run away and avoid pain and suffering but they accepted it gladly for the sake of their love of God. St. Paul speaks of this group as “a great cloud of witnesses” and he encourages us to follow their witness, their sufferings and martyrdoms. He calls us to “lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfection of our faith.”
This life is a race. Are we running in the right direction? I often hear the phrase “running the rat race.” But really it is no good. We are not rats. We are men and women who where created in the image and likeness of God, unlike any of the animals. God loved us and the potential that was within us so much that He sent His Son to become our ransom. His life was given in order to give us the potential for new life. And this act of salvation was completed with the sending of the Holy Spirit into our lives.
Each of us receive the gift of the Holy Spirit after baptism. Each of us is then opened up to the potential to become saints and holy ones. In many of his epistles, the Apostle Paul writes to the church and refers to them as “saints”. According to St. Paul, what is necessary for us to become saints is to “lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely.” The first step is heartfelt contrition and repentance. The holy people of God did not start that way. They were not necessarily born holy. St. Moses the Black was a murderer and a thief. St. Mary of Egypt was worse than a prostitute. After their encounters with the living God, they did not continue to wallow in their sins. They faced them head-on by running the race with perseverance. Here in the life of the Church we face our sins head-on by confessing them in the presence of a priest. They don’t try to find ways to hide themselves from exposure, they come and expose themselves to the core. This is exactly how we face our sins and begin to conquer them with the help of God.
They kept their eyes on Christ and ran towards Him with every moment of their lives and every fiber of their beings. That is what is required of saints. We can’t roll around in our sins and in all the bad habits that weigh us down and expect that we are going to come out clean. We change by desiring to change, and aiming towards the One who alone can offer healing and transformation.
It doesn’t matter whether or not we are ever officially recognized as saints. That is not the goal. The goal is to be recognized by the Lord Jesus and this is the outcome of first recognizing and acknowledging Him with our whole mind, heart, soul and strength. If you want to be a saint, God will help you more than you can imagine. But if you don’t want to be a saint, why are you here?
God wants you to be sanctified and to take the adoption that you have received and run with it! He wants us to make this adoption our own. He wants us to become partakers of the divine nature as is written in 2 Peter 1:4. That is why the Holy Spirit was sent down to us. He was sent down, that we might rise up!
And guess what? We have many modern examples of people who have done just that. People who have taken this adoption seriously and chosen to live, and sometimes to die for Jesus Christ. By the way that they lived and died, they acknowledged God and they proved that He was real. Is God real to you? He is so real to the saints that He becomes the single most powerful force in their lives. Imagine what we could do as a community of believers, if we took seriously the gift that was given to us by God? But we don’t have to imagine. We have only to read the multitude of the lives of the saints of the Church to see the glorious possibilities of a human life that is energized by the Holy Spirit.
The Psalms tell us that God is glorified in the saints. May He be glorified in and by our lives. May their lives inspire our lives. May Jesus Christ who is the life of the saints, become our life. Glory be to God forever, AMEN.