The Solemnity of All Saints, or All Saints Day, is the day the Church has set aside to celebrate those, marked with the sign of faith, who have gone before us to heaven. Our belief in the communion of saints, as expressed in the Creed, stems from the knowledge that our life together as a community of Christian believers does not end with death; thus, just as we ask those who are living to pray for us, so too do we ask the saints in heaven to join their prayers with ours to God. This year we have several new saints, including two Americans, to celebrate on this holy day.
On October 21, I was privileged to be in Rome for the Mass at which Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, canonized seven women and men whose lives and deeds are models of holiness in every age of the Church. These newest saints reflect so many aspects of the universal call to holiness. Among the group is a Jesuit missionary, two woman religious, a lay man, two lay women – one of whom was confined to bed for most of her life – and a diocesan priest. Although they lived in very different circumstances and in many different parts of the globe, they share in common the truth that the gift of the Holy Spirit enlightens our minds and strengthens our hearts to accept God’s word and to live it.
Much of the discussion in the recently concluded Synod in Rome centered on how evangelization is the mission of every member of the Church – bishops, priests, deacons, those in consecrated life and the laity together. All who are baptized are called to share the faith and all have gifts and opportunities for evangelization. The seven men and women canonized this month bring that to light. Whether gifted with leadership or illiterate, whether called to preach in foreign lands or to teach in a parish catechetical program, the witness of a life lived in holiness bears fruit in the life of the universal Church.
U.S. Catholics may take great pride in the fact that two of the newly canonized are part of the rich and fruitful legacy of lay and consecrated American women whose lives of faith have inspired generations of Catholics.
Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, a 17th century lay woman, came to know Jesus through the great missionary work of the Jesuits in upstate New York and Canada. Kateri’s love for our Lord became an evangelizing witness as she loved and served the people of her tribe and her community. Having died at the age of 24, she will bear a special witness for our youth and young adults as a reminder that they too make an important contribution to the life of our Church. They are not only the Church of the future but the “Church of now” as many of them have told me! Our Holy Father proclaimed, “Kateri impresses us by the action of grace in her life…and the courage of her vocation, so unusual in her culture.” Today, many of our young adults are made to feel that they are out of the mainstream if they want to be people of faith, committed to the life and teaching of our Church. As Pope Benedict noted, though, “… [Kateri’s] example will help us live where we are, loving Jesus without denying who we are.”
Saint Marianne Cope, a German-American, joined the Sisters of Saint Francis and eventually became Superior General. She was a leader within her order and gave witness to the love of Jesus lived out in service to the sick and dying. Mother Marianne’s work took her to Hawaii to join Father Damien in his ministry to lepers on Molokai. Our Holy Father observed, “She is a shining and energetic example of the best of the tradition of Catholic nursing sisters and of the spirit of her beloved Saint Francis.”
I also want to speak to the life of Pedro Calungsod, a Filipino teenage martyr, not only because I know many of the Filipinos who make the Archdiocese of Washington their spiritual home are celebrating this new saint but also because, as a layman and catechist, he reminds us of the impact that all of our catechists can have in the lives of their students in the faith. Pedro’s life bears witness to the courage we all need to share our faith in contemporary culture. Pope Benedict said of Pedro, “May the example and courageous witness of Pedro Calungsod inspire the dear people of the Philippines [and all Catholics] to announce the Kingdom bravely and to win souls for God!”
As we set a course of prayer and study in this Year of Faith, I encourage you to learn more about our seven new saints and seek their intercession for your own courage and commitment to share your love of Our Lord. And on this Solemnity of All Saints, let us remember that each one of us is called to be a saint.