Cloud of Witnesses

Fall is drawing to a close and many of us are beginning to feel the cold hand of winter slip its icy fingers around us.  Gardens lie barren, plucked of their fruit; dried leaves rattle in the wind, fallen and swirling as ghostly reminders of a warmer, more pleasant season now gone.  In some parts of the world, the first snows are beginning to blanket the ground, as if tucking in the world for a long sleep, burying the world in a silent death.

Our seasonal traditions also bring death and the macabre to the forefront of our minds.  Last night, many of us were faced with mortality every time we opened to door, greeted with an exuberant “Trick or Treat!” from ax-wielding and bloodied horror film characters, ghosts and goblins.  In fact, in our part of the world, Halloween has taken on a life, or death, of its own.  So much so, we tend to forget its origin: as the vigil to All Saints Day.

Today is the day that should receive the greater emphasis – a day of celebrating all the saints, those faithful to Christ, who have received their rest in heaven and now intercede for us, encouraging us to persevere, to “press on toward the prize”, and yield fully to the graces of God so we might join them.  Today is a special day we give praise and glory to God because we are surrounded by “such a great cloud of witnesses.”

There is something to be said for facing our mortality and grappling with the four last things: death, judgment, heaven and hell.  November, with its final death throes, entreats us to remember our eventual departing from this world.  But in the midst of this we should not forget that when we were baptized, we received the same grace and promises given to the saints, as well as the same calling: the universal call to holiness.  This world is, ultimately, not our home.  We are meant for another. 

Though we share a universal call to holiness, like a prism casting a rainbow of colors, God calls us individually to live out that universal calling in different ways.  Most are called to marriage – to love and experience God by giving themselves in sacrificial love to another – to become one with that person and raise a family, thereby providing an example of the Trinity to the world.  In this way, they are meant to be perfected.  Others are called to priesthood and religious life – to give themselves to God and in service of His Church – to pour themselves out as an oblation for the salvation of the world.  To pray for those lost and those struggling and to serve the poor and needy.  Others may be called to dedicate themselves as a single person, to care for family members who have no one else, or perform services in this world that would difficult for a married person or religious person to fulfill.  And the Church, in her wisdom, holds up saints from all walks of life and all vocations as examples of how we, in our time and circumstance, can respond to the call to holiness we have received.

There are two temptations in how our culture celebrates Halloween.  The first is we would develop an unhealthy interest or obsession with the darkness, the macabre, and things of death, while forgetting the hope we have in Christ Jesus.  The second is we would make it cartoonish and thereby fashion it as something at which we can foolishly laugh and ultimately dismiss.  In either case, we lose grasp of the grim reality of sin and death, but also of the grace, hope, and eternal life found in God.

Today, when you go to Mass (remember it is a holy day of obligation), celebrate with the Church that we have such a cloud of witnesses to show us the way.  Pray the litany of saints.  Learn something about one of the saints today.  Tomorrow, as it is All Souls Day, remember the faithful departed in purgatory.  Visit a nearby cemetery and say a prayer for the dead.  Remember the Church Suffering especially the rest of this month. 

The temptation now is to leap ahead to Thanksgiving and think of Christmas.  But instead of leaping ahead, let’s slow down and reflect: all will face death and judgment, heaven or hell.  Each of us should ask ourselves:  Am I ready?  What is God calling me to do in this time and place to be faithful to His will for my life?  What about my family and friends – am I as concerned for their eternal welfare as I should be?  Am I a good example for them?  Have I shared with them the hope I have in Jesus and invited them to join me on this earthly pilgrimage to our eternal home? 

All the angels and saints, pray for us.

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