Vatican II and the Call to Holiness | All Saints Day 2019

Homily for the Solemnity of All Saints
1 November 2019
Cathedral of Saint Raymond Nonnatus and St. Jude Parish

We sang tonight in the psalm, “Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.”

Are we?

On October 11, 1962, 57 years ago, the Second Vatican Council opened with great solemnity and pomp at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The number of people among us who remember and participated in the life of the Church before and after the council is growing smaller all the time. But those among us who remember those days will recall the great hope that had been placed in the council. Two words have frequently been used to describe the aims of the Council Fathers: the Italian word “aggiornamento”, meaning “updating” or “renewal”, and the French word “ressourcement”, meaning a “return to the sources”, the ancient sources of our Faith for the purpose of revisiting and rediscovering the truth and meaning of our Catholic faith.

In his opening speech at the council, known by its Latin name as “Gaudet Mater Ecclesia,” “Mother Church Rejoices,” Pope St. John XXIII explained the origin and reason for the Council. He writes,

“Illumined by the light of this Council, the Church, we trust, will grow in heavenly riches and, drawing from it the strength of new energies, we will look to the future without fear. For by means of appropriate improvements and wise provisions for cooperation, the Church will bring individuals, families, and nations to turn their minds to the things that are above.”

He goes on,

“The greatest concern on the Council is this, that sacred deposit of Christian doctrine should be more effectively defended and presented. This teaching embraces the whole human person, body and soul, and it commands us pilgrims…to strain eagerly towards the heavenly homeland…For all human beings, individually or joined together in society, are required constantly and throughout their lives to seek heavenly things.”

The people who search for heavenly things over and above those things of the earth; the people who are longing to see the face of God; the courage of every person to set out, passionately searching for an answer to questions and needs of his heart; and those people who remain faithful to this quest, to this the journey, until they are dead…these are the saints, these are the faithful whom we celebrate today.

The Council would take these words of Pope John XXIII very seriously, and would formulate explicitly for the first time in a document of the Church a truth which had been held by the Church from the very beginning: that, “in the Church, everyone whether belonging to the hierarchy, or being cared for by it, is called to holiness…This holiness of the Church is unceasingly manifested, and must be manifested, in the fruits of grace which the Spirit produces in the faithful; it is expressed in many ways individuals, who in their walk of life, tend toward the perfection of charity.” (Lumen Gentium, 39.)

All people – men, women; old, young; child, adult; pope, bishop, sacristy laundry lady, businesswoman in the pew; leaders of nations and legislators; those in law enforcement and in the armed services; those with no money or food or resources at all and those whose wealth is great – everyone, in every place, at every time, in every age, who has been encountered by Christ the Lord, the unconquered and immortal King of all ages and peoples, in all his glory…everyone! is called to a life of holiness of spirit and faithfulness to the truth.

[[As we know, and as we now are still seeing, the aftermath of the Council was not so clear. The teaching of the Church in the Council’s documents was not widely read, and many independent interpretations of the council began to appear. A lot of people heard the words of Pope John, that we must throw open the windows and let in the light, let in the fresh air, and adopted an imprudently radical approach to renewal. It was more than the Church’s approach to the modern world that was on the table, but her very teaching and indeed her very life.

It’s worth recalling that the Second Vatican Council was not a doctrinal council; that was the Council of Trent which took place during the Protestant Reformations. A lot can change in 500 years, including the way the world receives and understands the truths of the faith. But Truth itself is not progressive; 500 years demanded a change in the way the Church communicates what is true, but 500 years does change what is true.

Sadly, many in the Church believed that in order for the Church to be “relevant” or to have a seat at the table in the modern world, much of what she practiced and of what she believed necessarily needed to change. This was the impetus which began a long streak of destruction which the Council never called for. In many places and churches, all over the world, statues were destroyed and altars were removed; tabernacles found themselves in closets and corners, or removed altogether; priceless paintings were removed and put in museums or, yes, in the trash; the rosary and other devotions were abandoned, along with the practice of regular confession, fasting, and Eucharistic devotion. The use of incense, candles, beautiful sacred vestments and vessels was stopped, and the idea of the Mass as a re-entry into the one sacrifice of Jesus Christ on calvary were abandoned.

In many places, the spirit of renewal prompted ongoing calls for changes in the Church’s doctrine, all carried out in the name of the Council which had explicitly stated was not seeking a change in doctrine.

In favor of a radical approach never even mentioned by the council, in many ways we have abandoned and even contradicted the self-proclaimed aim of the council: the reset our vision, and the vision of all modern men and women, on heavenly things that every single one of us might become saints.]]

This is the perennial task of the Church: how do we remain faithful to the teachings of Jesus Christ of his Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, in our age? This is the question the first apostles were asking, this is the question the Church Fathers were asking, this is the question St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Francis of Assisi, and St. Dominic were asking, this is the question that Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis are asking. This is the question of the saints, and our own search for an answer to it is what will hurl us headlong on the path of sanctity: how can I remain faithful to Jesus Christ, who gave himself up for me, in the situation and experience of my daily life?

The point of All Saints’s Day, and a major reason why it is a Holy Day of Obligation, is because on this day we celebrate those who have won the race, who have kept the faith, and who have done what every single person of good will is longing to do: to see the face of God. To see the face of God for all eternity in heaven means to have seen the face of God in our brothers and sisters here and now.

“Beloved, see what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. YET SO WE ARE.”

We celebrate today those whose name will never be on a statue or engraved over the door of a church. We celebrate those saints whose face will never be on a holy card, who will never be called the patron of anything. We celebrate those saints whose names and lives we do not know, because they were regular lives, like ours, of extraordinary faith. We celebrate these invisible saints whom the world did not know, perhaps whom the world mocked and persecuted, but who, because they recognized that they belonged to the people who longed to see the face of God, now sit in his kingdom in glory and honor forever.

We celebrate today those were poor and who mourned; those who were meek and hungry; those who were merciful and pure; those who yearned for peace, justice, and righteousness; those who were insulted and persecuted and ridiculed all because they longed to see the face of the one they loved; we celebrate those who, even now, rejoice and are glad, and whose reward indeed is great in heaven.

And we are filled with hope! Because their lot, their destiny, is not somehow inaccessible to us! The glory of heaven and the face of God are not far away from us! But they require from us, from every single one of us, a new commitment to this journey. We are asked to look at our lives, to take ourselves seriously, to honor our experience no matter how painful it has been, and take up again the call of the Second Vatican Council to become holy; to become the eyes and feet and hands and face of Christ, the son of God, who manifests himself in the world.

It will be hard, the road will be long, the way will be arduous, and there will be challenges and we might even fall, one or two or a thousand times. But let us be confident that what awaits us is not only amazing and super sweet, but that the one toward whom we run is the fulfillment and answer of all of our hope, of all of our pain, of all of our joy; the One toward whom we travel, and the One whom we are called to reintroduce to this world who has largely forgotten him, is the one whose face we so long to see and who, in a way as inexplicable as it is beautiful, longs to us see our face as well.

The golden evening brightens in the west;
Soon, soon to faithful warriors comes their rest;
Sweet is the calm of paradise the blest:
Alleluia, alleluia!

But then there breaks a yet more glorious day;
The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of glory passes on his way:
Alleluia, alleluia!

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