Today is the Feast of All Saints. Perhaps I have been watching too many sporting events recently, but today I was thinking about how Holy Days of Obligation are a sort of half-time pep talk to a flagging Church Militant which is being challenged to live up to the storied franchise of the Church Triumphant. This seems especially true of the Feast of All Saints.
The Feast of All Saints is a day that often we don't really "get" in the pews. We may go through the motions, but it doesn't really move us much. I think the reason for that is because those of us in the pews focus entirely on honoring the saints. That's important, to be sure. As I was on retreat last weekend, I reflected on some of my favorite saints: St. Peter, St. Augustine, St. Therese of Lisieux, and St. Ignatius of Loyola. They have much to teach me, and I need their prayers.
However, the Feast of All Saints is about remembering the saints we don't know, who aren't canonized, who don't have a feast day. The person who lived next door to us growing up who is now with God. The grandmother who has gone on to eternal life. The child who died of cancer and is now praying for his parents who are grieving still. We are reminded of the "universal call to holiness," a call described in Chapter 5 of Lumen Gentium. We are all called to be saints. If we don't become saints, we will spend eternity separated from God. There is no permanent half-way house (Purgatory is a temporary half-way house). We are called to choose life or death (Deuteronomy 30:19), and saints are people who have chosen life. We often think of sainthood as something unattainable for us. The secret is this: sainthood is unattainable by us but is not unattainable for us. If we cooperate with God's grace, we can become saints. St. Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower who described for us "the little way" in her book, The Story of a Soul (translated by John Beevers), made a choice to become a saint: "You know, Mother, that I have always wanted to become a saint" (Chapter, 9, p. 113).
So how do we become saints? There are as many ways to become a saint as there are individuals. Read the lives of the saints. Each had a different road to take to reach heaven. But some patterns emerge.
Trust in God - Saints trust that God will keep his promises. They have faith in God's word.
Prayer - Saints know they must be in relationship with God. They must talk to God. They must listen to God. They must read God's word. Heaven is about fulfilling one's relationship with God, so we must begin that relationship here on earth.
Vocation - Sainthood is possible through all vocations: ordained life, consecrated life, marriage, and the single life. However, sainthood is not possible if we reject the vocation to which God calls us and willfully choose a different vocation. Think of Jonah. We must go where God calls us, which is to go where we will ultimately encounter him most fully.
Sacraments - Saints live sacramental lives. They attend mass frequently; they receive Jesus in the Eucharist frequently; they go to confession frequently.
Love in Action - Saints love God so much that their love spills over to others. They don't merely say they love people, but they express that love in actions. They are doers of Jesus' words (Matthew 7: 24-27).
That's my list. One could slice and dice it different ways, but you get the idea. It's like losing weight. We all know how to do it. The problem is we don't want to do what it takes.