All Saints Day 2020: catacombs, “holy geeks” and Beatitudes
All Saints Day 2020: catacombs, “holy geeks” and Beatitudes
All Saints Nov. 1, 2020 (Rev 7:2-4.9-14, Ps 24, 1 Jn 3:1-3, Mt 5:1-12)
The day after the elections in Georgia, living in a violent and troubled world with terrorist attacks in France, war in the South Caucasus, a prolonged coronavirus world health pandemic, we celebrate All Saints Day.
Let us allow our memories to recall another time, to the first celebration of All Saints Day in the year 609. In the very early Christian church in Rome, Christians celebrated their faith in hiding, in the dark, praying in underground catacombs away from the danger of being persecuted by the authorities. In the catacombs were buried many, many faithful, many martyrs, many holy pastors and saints of all walks of life.
These grounds of the catacombs were many and some extended for kilometers and kilometers of two, three, four and even more levels of underground passageways, one over the other. The enveloped holy relics of deceased bodies were laid on stone and dirt shelves along every passageway. Christians came devoutly to celebrate their Christian faith in small often cramped dimly lite chapels surrounded by the remains of saints. The faithful were readily reminded of the example and the powerful intercession of the saints.
In the year 314 with the Edict of Milan, Emperor Constantine decreed the freedom of religion in the whole Empire. Then Christians became free to celebrate their faith openly without persecution. The Pantheon, a prominent Roman landmark in the center of the city, was transformed and became a Christian Church. The first liturgical celebration of All Saints Day took place in the year 609 in the Pantheon in Rome.
Relics of saints were brought from the hidden catacomb in solemn processions to the Pantheon which had now become a Christian Church under the patronage of Our Lady of All Martyrs and Saints. The pagan temple of the Pantheon, had been dedicated to “all the gods” as its name indicated. Now this place became Christian and professed one only God, Lord of the heavenly host of saints and martyrs. The faithful came not only to celebrate the known saints but also the saints that where unknown to humans and known to God alone.
In fact, when we gather for Holy Liturgy, in keeping with scripture and tradition, we know that God in his greatness is with us in our midst: “where two or three are gathered in my name, I am in their midst” (Mat. 18:15-20). Beyond you and me, the Church is filled with the heavenly communion of saints and heavenly hosts of angels. Our faithful ancestors pray with us. Indeed, this is St. John’s vision in the 1st Reading “… I had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people and tongue… They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands…” (Rev. 7:2-4, 9-14)
This is St. John’s vision of heaven, which the holy liturgical celebration makes real because it has at its center the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. We are talking about multitudes and multitudes of people who are saints and who have gone before us. They made a clear choice for their lives. They chose to follow Christ and live as Christ called them. Christ also calls us to choose and follow Him.
St. Thomas Aquinas wrote: “to go to heaven we need to will it, we need to desire it, we need to choose it…” The Gospel of the liturgy of All Saints Day is commonly referred to as the Gospel of the Beatitudes. It is the perfect summary of Christian life and what Christ calls us to be and do. The Gospel is so contrary to the workings of our world.
In the Kingdom of Heaven are the Blessed: the poor in spirit; those who are concerned with others and mourn their miseries; the meek, the pure of heart, those who suffer, those who are now hungry and thirsty, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted because of their choice to follow Christ. (Mt 5:1-12)
God’s invitation is not something so strange nor something so removed from what we can do. Since the beginning of time saints came from every walk of life, state of life, profession, age, culture and race. In fact, our very human being yearns to unit itself back with our creator – to God.
One of the newly recognized Blessed was a young “computer geek”! He died when he was merely 15 years old in 2006 – Carlo Acutis. Born in London, in the United Kingdom, to parents who were not particularly religious. He grew up in Milan, Italy, and became very sensitive to questions of faith, to prayer and in particular the Blessed Eucharist. He concerned himself in supporting peers that came from separated parents, with the physically disabled and defended them from bullying, and volunteered to help the homeless.
He loved watching films, reading comics and playing on his PlayStation as well as travelling to places of pilgrimages. By the tender age of 11 years, Carlo Acutis created a website dedicated to cataloguing Eucharistic miracles throughout the world. Such was his love of the Holy Eucharist.
Carlo Acutis contracted Leukemia and it proved to be fatal. He suffered physical pain but offered his suffering for the Pope and the Church throughout the world. During the long medical treatments when his doctors asked him if he felt pain, he would respond “there are people suffering much more than me”. He bore his life and death with great faith and passed away on Oct. 12, 2006. A virtuous “computer geek” was buried in Assisi as he wished.
All Saints Day, reminds us that no matter who we are, what we do, where we come from, what stage in life we find ourselves, what historical times we live in, God invites us to follow him.
Yes indeed, in the back drop of the uncertainty after the elections in Georgia, living in a troubled world with terrorist attacks such as those in France, the suffering and death of a catastrophic war in the South Caucasus, and the prolonged heavy human and emotional toll of the coronavirus world health pandemic…we celebrate All Saints Day.
Today we are called to make choices: go forth, follow Christ and even in what may seem to be catacombs of our times, know that the intercession of the Saints is greater… live out Christ’s Beatitudes …