FEAST OF ALL SAINTS: The Intercession of the Saints.
“You have come to Mount Sion, and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to the company of many thousands of angels, and to the Church of the firstborn, who are written in the heavens, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the just made perfect” (Heb. xii. 22, 23).
SAINT SULPICIOUS SEVERUS says of St. Martin of Tours, that he commanded a raging conflagration to cease, and it instantly obeyed him; he was a saint, and ruled the elements like his Master. St. Francis of Assisi marshalled the beasts of the field and the fishes of the stream to hear him discourse of God; he was a saint, and ruled the dwellers of the woods and of the waters. But in both these saints, and in all saints and angels, there is the higher power of ruling men by the might of God s love. God s saints dominate their fellowmen, because God is with them in their sainthood. And their holiness is one with our own, however immensely greater it may be in the accumulated treasures of their heroic lives. To each of them, through their Master and ours, did God grant His sovereignty, as the Psalmist testifies: “Thou hast set him over all the works of Thy hands; Thou hast subjected all things under his feet” (Ps. viii. 7, 8). We see some men under the feet of Satan, and some groveling under the wheels of the world’s profane chariot. But God s elect are under the control of saints and angels, and, as little brothers and sisters, they are happily led onward to their home by their elders, panting with eager anticipations of the delightful plenty of their Father s house and the torrent of His joys (Ps. xxxv. 9).
No difference between Catholics and non-Catholics is more essential than in the obliviousness of our separated friends to this wonderful dogma of the union of this life and the hereafter in the radiant borderland of the intercession of the saints. We Catholics feel heaven to be very near to earth, holy angels and beatified men ready at hand to join and aid us in our upward strivings toward divine things; whereas Protestants set heaven far off; it is beyond the most distant margins of their religious life, all of its happy spirits are barred off from them and wholly inaccessible to their yearning hearts. How little do they comprehend the meaning of our text’s divine teaching: “You are come to Mt. Sion, and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to the company of many thousands of angels, and to the Church of the firstborn, who are written in the heavens, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the just made perfect” (Heb. xii. 22, 23).
The Catholic Church teaches that we can converse with the glorious dead and with the mighty angels, and that we do so by asking their prayers for us. It is in an atmosphere of faith that we recognize them, and by the instinct of faith that we feel at one with them, appreciating that all of God s friends are one family, whose unity embraces earth and purgatory and heaven, and whose medium of intercommunion is the joint activity of all spirits upwards toward God the common life of prayer. “Out of sight, out of mind,” is the proverb of reproach of weak friendship. Shall we let it apply to our departed friends, who have overcome death and the grave and passed from our earthly and visible presence, to a heavenly presence round about us and within us? Because they have gone to the living God, shall they have entirely departed away from us, His immortal children? In this life friends separated by distance are united in spirit by love and by prayer, and also by exchange of written messages or tidings brought by mutual friends.
Now, every time we lift our souls to the company of God’s saints, He Himself plays the part of the mutual friend; every time we read the lives or the writings of the saints, these heavenly messages bear their tokens of love to us. “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity; for there the Lord hath commanded blessing and life for evermore ” (Ps. cxxxii. 1-3). How pleasant, indeed, for wayfaring souls to rest after the toilsome day and the dusty road in the spiritual refreshment of prayer to God in company with His holy ones! While on earth they loved men’s company in order to do them good, and now that heaven’s bliss has made them yet more perfect instruments of good, they seek out our company to soothe us with the comfort of their heavenly thoughts, and with closer and closer introduction to the society of our Redeemer. This common sharing of virtues and merits between brethren in probation and brethren in triumph is a precious part of our hopes. For the essence of it we rely upon Christ; He is, again essentially, “the firstborn among many brethren” (Rom. viii. 29). As He lives by the Father, so does He communicate His Father s life and His own life to all who sit at His banquet of the Eucharist (John vi. 58). Sharing His own virtues and joys with us, He wills that His friends shall do likewise with their brethren, both while they are here below and after they have been taken up to heaven.
How sweet the dignity of those wonderful beings, those flowers of God s heavenly paradise, the angels! The joy of God in His own infinite beauty was in them expressed, for they are more strictly like Him than our best humanity. And yet, perfect as they are, they were not made perfect for themselves alone, but for us also, who are a new kind of creation, a little lower than the angels (Ps. viii. 6), but destined to be the brethren even of God made man. How noble is man, since these spirits, with all their gracious beauty, are employed by God in the service of man. “Are they not all ministering spirits,” exclaims the Apostle, “sent to minister for them who shall receive the inheritance of salvation?” (Heb. i. 14.) Strength, life, order, “In beauteous showers outstreamed; And realms of newly fashioned space “With radiant angels beamed.” (Faber’s Hymn of the Angels.}
If, as all say, a man is known by his company, then our race has a perfect nobility, for the wondrous spirits of God’s court constantly associate with us; they envy one another the privilege of serving us. They chide and soothe and elevate us by turns, sleeplessly guarding us against our foes. Their strength and love and truth finally prepare us to stand before their King and ours at the dread accounting with which eternity begins. Their custody of us is often spoken of in Holy Writ as something warlike: “The angel of the Lord shall encamp round about them that fear Him, and shall deliver them” (Ps. xxxiii. 8). Penitents and which of us will claim exemption from that classification are specially privileged, because their sorrow is not only made their own joy (John xvi. 20), but it increases the ecstasies even of their angels ; for hear our Lord s strong words: ” I say to you, that even so there shall be joy in heaven upon one sinner that doth penance, more than upon ninety-nine just who need not penance” (Luke xv. 7). To these spirits, whose glory is so true a reflection of the Divine Majesty, we are, of course, like children; but children of their God and brothers of their King, the Son of God. Ever at your side your guardian angel stands, and he sees through your waywardness deep into your future supreme felicity. It is through your soul that his gaze is fixed upon the eternal years. The very humility that falls upon you as you mark the contrast between you and him, delights him with a love for you like a mother’s, anticipating, as it does, those future ages when he and you shall be happy equals in the commonwealth of God s paradise. Devotion to the angels, and especially to the guardian angel, is therefore a form of religion most directly practical, without ceasing to be exceedingly unearthly.
It deals with heaven through supernatural person ages all our own and all absorbed in our interests. Their prayerful life in God is the atmosphere all about us; and they are the official pleaders and advocates who are associated closely with the greatest friend we have with Christ, namely, our Mother Mary, the Queen of the angels. How can one rise in the morning and fail to salute His angel, that sleepless watcher of the perilous night; how lie down to sleep without saying at least a few words of affection and of thanks to the angel, who has guided his steps and cleansed his motives through the noisy hours of the day?
And what of those other heavenly friends of ours who are, in a way, closer to us than even the angels? What of those among God s saints who are our name saints or otherwise our special patrons? Once, like ourselves, men and women striving and struggling in the press of human misery and sin, repentance and relapse, in the hot sun of prosperity and the icy chill of adversity, they are now fathoming and adoring the infinite bliss of God in its very essence. These, we insist, are more closely our kindred than are even the angels. The claim of brotherhood is a claim of a sweeter equality even than that of angelic guardianship, and it is mine toward every saint in heaven. “Keep your spirit in the heavenly Jerusalem,” exhorts St. Francis de Sales, “amid those glorious streets which you will find ever-resounding with God s praises. Gaze upon that marvelous variety of saints, and ask them how they got there” (Letters to Persons in Religion, Mackey, p.443).
Rev. Walter Elliott, C.S.P., Parish Sermons on Moral and Spiritual Subjects for All Sundays and Feasts of Obligation (New York: The Paulist Fathers, 1913), 447-452.