As our holy father Dominic lay dying, he addressed his brothers saying ‘Do not weep, for I shall be more useful to you after my death and I shall help you then more effectively than during my life.’ In this, he echoed the desires of saints across the ages, to spend eternity doing good on earth. The saints, being more closely united with Christ continue to intercede for us with the Father, and through a loving concern for us, help us through this world.
You will not be surprised to learn that I think S. Dominic is right – his greatest gift to us is his heavenly intercession, and the prayers we receive from him, and the others who make up that great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1). This is a rich gift for us to celebrate today. The greatness of this gift is shown particularly when we consider the variety of the saints, for on this day we celebrate all the saints, not just those who get a day scheduled in the liturgical calendar, but every saint.
All of these saints had very different earthly lives, coming from different times in human history and from different parts of the world. We realise this quite readily, but what it seems more easy to forget is that saints were like us in their earthly lives, with their own particular sins and foibles. What allowed them to achieve heroic virtue was their openness to God’s grace working in their lives, so that each time they fell into sin, they repented, and by growth in virtue were conformed more closely to Christ.
S. Theresa of Calcutta once said, ‘Keep in mind that our community is not composed of those who are already saints, but of those who are trying to become saints. Therefore let us be extremely patient with each other’s faults and failures.’ If our lives are truly to be ones which strive towards sanctity, we have to not only acknowledge our own faults and failings, but also recognise those of other people. Sometimes this might require us to correct other people – to point out to them what they are doing wrong; at other times it might require us to be silent, to exercise a fraternal charity.
Both fraternal correction and fraternal charity are an exercise of mercy, and it’s worth reflecting on how mercy can help us grow together in a stronger communion. As we draw towards the end of the Extraordinary Year of Mercy, much has been said about the corporal works of mercy, but very little about the spiritual works of mercy. These works (to instruct the ignorant, to counsel the doubtful, to admonish sinners, to bear patiently those who wrong us, to forgive offences, to console the afflicted, and to pray for the living and the dead) can help us grow in virtue, to conform more closely to the example of Christ.
The communion of the saints can be a model here: the communion experienced by the saints in heaven should encourage us to grow closer together, showing love and mercy towards each other, so that we can come to ‘have one heart and one soul seeking God’ (Rule of S. Augustine, 1, 2). But as S. Dominic said, the most valuable thing we can celebrate today is not just the model that the saints give us in our life, but their powerful intercession, praying for us and uniting us more closely with Christ, the fountain and head of all grace.