What We May Become

What We May Become

Solemnity of All Saints. Fr Dominic Ryan encourages us to use our imagination.

It’s always sad to meet someone with a lack of imagination. Not the kind of imagination you need to think about mythical creatures like dragons, or alternative possibilities like what might have happened if such and such was the case. Rather it’s the kind of imagination you need to recognise that things can actually be different and that human beings can be better – much better – than we usually are.

Of course, for Christians this is very much at the heart of what we’re about. We believe that Jesus Christ does make it possible that human beings can be better than we are and we believe that there are human beings, the saints, who demonstrate exactly what Christ has done. And it’s these ideas that are at the heart of what we celebrate on the Solemnity of All Saints.

Let’s start with Jesus; what he does is give us a new goal, a new point to our lives which will make us truly and perfectly happy. Perhaps even more importantly he gives us the means to achieve it. There are lots of things we pursue in our lives. Some of them make us happy for a while, some don’t make us happy at all and others we think we might like but we cannot attain them and so never experience them. What Christ offers isn’t like any of these though. What Christ offers will make us perfectly happy and we can attain what Christ offers if we follow the path he lays out for us.

But what is it and how do we get it? To answer the first question look at the second reading, where we are told: ‘…we shall be like him because we shall see him as he really is.’

Should we be fortunate enough to get to heaven then, we’ll be somehow like God. Not Gods ourselves, obviously, but conformed to God, made like him in some way. And what God will do to make us like him will be to give us a share of his knowing and loving. We will see ourselves, other people and everything else in creation just as God sees them, and we’ll love what we see in just the same way that God does.

Just think of the difference that makes. All the petty fault and failings we have, all the serious ones as well, all the wasted time and effort spent on nastiness and harm all gone. All of it replaced by something perfect and truly fulfilling.

Of course we can’t do this by ourselves. We can’t get ourselves into heaven and once we are there, we can’t cope with God’s brilliance. Fortunately though he helps us at every stage of the way. To help us get to heaven he helps us through his grace. Christ’s death makes possible the very grace we need to get to heaven. And though at times we may fall away from this life, the possibility of return to it is always there. And, if that isn’t enough, once in heaven God helps us a second time. He fortifies us through the light of his glory so that we are able to know and love as God does.

But if that is the goal Christian life aims at and the means for attaining it, how do the saints fit in? How do they demonstrate what Christ has made possible? Well, there are two kinds of saints, canonised ones and uncanonised ones. The canonised ones are known to us all, precisely because the Church has declared them such. They are the famous ones, saints like Peter, Paul, Augustine and so on. Others however, indeed the vast majority of saints in heaven, are not known to us. These are the uncanonised saints. They are the countless numbers of people, known only to their immediate family, friends and colleagues, who throughout their lives lived according to God’s will and as a result now enjoy eternal life with him.

Our hope resides in these two kinds of saint. The fact that the Church can declare definitively that certain individuals are with God shows that the goal Christ puts before us is possible. If we can be certain that some people are with God then we know that it is possible to be with God. And if we know that the majority of people in heaven are not canonised saints, then we know that we can do it as well and that it is not just these few truly exceptional individuals who can do as Christ asks. So if we accept the witness of both these groups then it is clear we have a lot to celebrate on the Solemnity of All Saints.

Readings: Revelation 7:2-4,9-14|1 John 3:1-3|Matthew 5:1-12

fr Dominic Ryan is Subprior and Bursar of the Priory of the Holy Spirit in Oxford, and Prefect of the Studium Library.