All Saints Aren’t Relics

All Saints Day is a good time to meditate on what a saint is. In many cases they’re simple people who were either martyred or persecuted for their fearless dedication to God. I grew up in a time when we thought saints were history. We didn’t realize they lived among us, too.

My family and I just saw “Infidel,” a film based on several cases of religious and political persecution. It’s the story of a Christian blogger who was invited to speak at an interfaith meeting in Tehran. He spoke about the teachings of Jesus, and received support in saying Jesus was a great teacher and prophet, but when he testified to his belief that Jesus was Son of God, a world of trouble opened before him.

The movie is based on true stories of American citizens arrested in Iran, falsely charged with espionage and either held prisoner for years or threatened with execution. The point of mentioning this movie here is not to castigate Iran for intolerance, but to illustrate the irony that Christians who live their faith publicly aren’t treated with much more respect in America’s increasingly secular and even agnostic culture. In fact, we seem to be living in an era where public statements of Judeo-Christian principles is an act of courage.

Upon leaving the theater after seeing “Infidel,” one of my sons recited for us the blessing with which Christ concluded his beatitudes—and which also summarizes the movie’s message: “Blessed are you when you are reviled and persecuted falsely for my sake. Rejoice, for yours is the Kingdom of Heaven.” It seems appropriate, then, that this Sunday’s gospel reading (MT 5:1-12A) has Christ reciting ALL the beatitudes constituting Christian values.

But it also seems that reciting even ONE of these in public these days is an act of courage. To one who lives Judeo-Christian values, though, it’s as natural as breathing. Most of Christ’s disciples were martyred for teaching those values, but in Sunday’s second reading, John (1 JN 3:1-3) makes his courage in a hostile world easy to understand and aspire to:

The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.

The first reading for All Saints Day from the Book of Revelation (RV 7:2-4, 9-14) gives us the iconic image of faithful people of every nation, race, people, and tongue, dressed in white robes and praising God at the top of their lungs. The elder quoted in this passage identifies them:

“These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress.”

Of all the All Saints Days on which we’ve read and heard this passage, November 1, 2020 seems to best resemble that remark. May all living souls have the courage to live the truth for which those saints died.

–Tom Andel

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